From Playwrights Horizons to Broadway: A History of the Musical Violet

By Robert Simonson
19 Apr 2014

Michael Park and Lauren Ward in Violet.

When it was announced in early 2013 that Tesori would be the first artistic director for Encores! Off-Center, a new concert-production series celebrating Off-Broadway musicals, Violet was part of the inaugural season (along with the Depression-era Marc Blitztein political musical The Cradle Will Rock and the 1970’s folk-rock musical I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road).

Leigh Silverman directed the new staging, which received a one-night only concert presentation July 13, 2013 and received good reviews. “Violet was ahead of its time in examining the national obsession with physical beauty and transformation expressed in makeovers and cosmetic surgery,” wrote the New York Times. “As Ms. Tesori has demonstrated in shows like Caroline, or Change, set in the South in the same period, she has an ear acutely attuned to American roots music. At the same time, she is an eloquent melodist. Violet arrived around the same time as the Adam Guettel-Tina Landau show Floyd Collins, set in Kentucky in the 1920s. Because both powerful scores forsook traditional razzle-dazzle to explore rural vernacular styles, they were underappreciated in their time.”

Soon after, it was announced that Violet would, at long last, go to Broadway. It didn’t hurt the show’s fortunes that the new production has one of Broadway’s few certified musical theatre stars in the lead: Sutton Foster, who has won Tony Awards for Thoroughly Modern Millie and Anything Goes and has been nominated for Shrek the Musical, The Drowsy Chaperone and Little Women. The soldiers this time are played by Colin Donnell and Joshua Henry. Ben Davis played the preacher, and Alexander Gemignani is Violet’s father.