By Alan Jozwiak
Scars are tattoos with a better story.
This bit of wisdom certainly applies to the titular hero in Northern Kentucky University’s latest musical offering “Violet.”
Set in the South during the segregationist 1960s, this musical tells the compelling story of Violet (played in the Saturday matinee performance which I saw by understudy Chloe Esmeier). Violet was hit in the face with an ax when she was 13-years old, leaving an ugly scar.
Wanting to become beautiful like the women in the motion pictures, the now-adult Violet sets off on a journey from her home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina to see a preacher in Tulsa who could work miracles on her face. Along the way, she befriends two soldiers, Monty (Chris Monell) and Flick (Jeremiah Savon Jackson), who both become romantically involved with her.
This production is strong vocally, with well harmonized songs from the company like “On My Way” and “Bring Me To Light.” Not only did the ensemble deliver strong vocal performances, but the principles are also strong singers.
Junior NKU student Chloe Esmeier gives an incredibly strong performance as Violet. She delivered a powerful, emotional performance in “Lay Down Your Head” and “Look at Me,” while also hitting on Violet’s emotional turmoil. Esmeier’s approach to Violet can summed up through a quote by Khang Kijarro Nguyen, who said “Emotional scars run deeper than the Nile and often lie lurking behind a smile.” This is how Esmeier plays Violet. Someone who smiles to hide the emotional scars running deep into her soul.
Equally strong is Violet’s younger version who appears in flashbacks with her father. Young Vi is played by Hailey Watson, who is a powerhouse of a performer. I like her tomboy-ish zeal and her ability to belt out some amazing songs revealing Violet’s inner turmoil. She is a delight to watch.
Also strong are the performances by Monty (Chris Monell) and Flick (Jeremiah Savon Jackson). Monell plays the cocksure Monty to the hilt, while also being able to belt out songs and dance at a nightclub. Jackson’s performance of Flick is earnest, and he shines best when singing songs revealing his inner feelings, such as in “Let it Sing” and “Hard to Say Goodbye.”
In keeping with the emphasis on the vocals, the set itself is minimal. It is stripped down to three inclined platforms on either side of the stage, and the back wall covered with broken slanting to imitate a weathered barn. It provides plenty of places to have different scenes take place. The only problem I saw with the angling of the platforms is that the coins Young Vi and her Father (Trey Finkenstead) use to play poker sometimes slid onto the floor.
I was frankly surprised by this production, since “Violet” is not one my favorite musicals, and the story it tells has some hard lessons for its main characters. However, the NKU production was able to highlight its wondrous elements. This production is a must-see for those who want to see strong and compelling theater.
NKU’s “Violet” runs from September 23 to October 2, 2022 in the Corbett Theatre, their main theatrical space on campus. For specific showtimes and ticket information, visit the NKU box office at https://www.nku.edu/academics/sota/theatre/season/2022-2023.html.
Alan Jozwiak is a local playwright, UC English Composition instructor, Comics Scholar and has been with with LCT for over 10 years.