Legacy’s Violet promises a transcendent musical road trip
“Left my troubles back there when I climbed on board…”- from Violet
Following a cross-country Greyhound ride undertaken by a young woman in search of healing, Violet is the Legacy Theatre’s most recent production, a musical set in 1964 which promises to skirt the trappings of flashier shows to deliver an emotional punch via strong characters and Americana-based songs, telling a transcendent story of self-acceptance.
“I call Violet an everywoman,” said Springfield-area actress Diane Dietz who plays the title role in the locally produced show. “She is scarred from a horrible accident on her family farm when she was younger and she is stunted and stuck – emotionally, mentally and spiritually.” Violet encounters various people during her long bus journey from her tiny hometown of Spruce Pine, North Carolina, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in order to meet a faith healer, developing significant relationships along the way.
“We got the entire cast from auditions,” said Scott Richardson, who produced the show and also owns the Legacy Theatre. He described the set for Violet as homespun and minimalist, constructed from brick and timber, including a set of vintage chairs which are endlessly reconfigured. “It’s a cast of 10, and most of them play two characters – the costumes are all vintage clothing from the period, we even have legit Greyhound bus driver uniforms from the mid-1960s.” Richardson described the show’s songs as a mix of bluegrass, gospel, rockabilly and folk played by a compact orchestra featuring cello, banjo and standup bass, with the musicians all onstage and also in period costumes.
A few of the Springfield-area actors in the cast went the extra mile (or several hundred) in researching the story and their roles. “In the script, Violet mentions drinking a liqueur called Applejack with her father,” Dietz explained. “Growing up on the side of a mountain with her dad, she would play poker with him and they would drink together. So I was playing poker with some of the other cast members, and we looked up Applejack distillery – there’s only one and it’s an hour away from Spruce Pine!” Dietz and her cohort went on a semi-spontaneous 10-hour road trip tracing the character’s bus journey, and got a feel for the local accents and flavor as well as the literal flavor of Applejack (“kind of like apple brandy but more tart”). The trip helped her play the character more organically, according to Dietz. “Violet is stuck in her head a lot and now that I know what her hometown is like, I try to imagine what it would have been like as someone growing up there.”
“There are so many different themes and layers to the show,” said Violet’s director, Squire Prince. “There is the strong idea of beauty and self-image, how we’re always trying to look a certain way because of what magazines say is the ideal of beauty. This show taught me that we all walk around with our own scars – whether it’s our skin color, a lack of love or an actual physical scar, like Violet – but you have to find what makes you unique, what makes you beautiful. In the current political and social climate, I think everyone needs to be reminded to embrace their scars and turn their curse into a blessing.”
“Violet fits in nicely with the next few shows we’re doing,” said Richardson. “In February we have Summer of Love and then we’re doing Hairspray next summer. They are all set in the ‘60s, like this one. All deal with issues like peace and civil rights, which seem relevant in the current social and political climate. In our own little way, we try to put some positivity out and help people think.”
Violet will run Sept. 28-30 and Oct. 4-7 at the Legacy Theatre, 101 W. Lawrence. For tickets and further information visit atthelegacy.com or call 528-9760.
Scott Faingold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .