If you travel the theater circuit at all, you've no doubt experienced a few heavy-handed productions that employ screen projections to alert the audience as to the significance or definition of a given scene. If executed with technical savvy, this device can have artistic merit. It can just as equally come off as condescending. No need for such a gimmick with Violet, the Jeanine Tesori/Brian Crawley musical based on Doris Betts' book The Ugliest Pilgrim that opens the San Diego Repertory Theatre's 40th season (congratulations, Rep!). Violet is about the nature of beauty—what it is, what it isn't, how it's beheld. This is as clear as a big ol' harvest moon hangin' over North Carolina. Y'all.
Forgive the Southern flavor. You can't help it with a story that unfolds entirely in the 1960s American South. Violet (a stridently impressive Hannah Corrigan) is on a pilgrimage from her Carolina hometown to visit a Jimmy Swaggartlike televangelist (Jason Heil, working up a sweat) whom she hopes can heal the facial disfigurement she's suffered with since a childhood accident. On this multi-stop bus trip, she meets a couple of young soldiers, macho yet insecure Monty (Jacob Caltrider) and an intense African-American sergeant, Flick (Rhett George), and so begins an unlikely love triangle. Paralleling all this is a recreation of young Violet's (Katelyn Katz) relationship with her father (Jason Maddy) whose ax it was that accidentally scarred his daughter.
There aren't a lot of narrative surprises in this nearly 20-year-old show, and Violet's metamorphoses from joy to despair and back again late in the going stretch credulity. But the performances directed by Sam Woodhouse are rock-solid, and the musical score, while not boasting numbers that will stay with you for very long, has something for everyone: country, blues, bluegrass, rock and especially gospel. “Raise Me Up,” the highlight of the Hope Church sequence, is a real barn-burner thanks to Lula Buffington and a backing choir.
Set as it is in 1964, there is historical perspective in Violet. The most potent point made is that prejudice and fear of those who look different from us is as alive today as it was then.
Violet runs through Sept. 13 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, downtown. $36-$75. sdrep.org
The Diary of Anne Frank: The stage adaptation of the inspirational true story of a young girl hiding from Nazis in WWII Amsterdam. It opens Sept. 3 at Vista's Broadway Theater. broadwayvista.com
The Taming of the Shrew: A free outdoor production of Shakespeare's witty comedy about matchmaking. Presented by Point Loma Playhouse, it opens for four performances on Sept. 4 at Point Loma Park. pointlomaplayhouse.com
Blueprints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin: This world premiere drama set in 1963 centers on the redemptive story of Civil Rights hero Bayard Rustin. Written by Michael Benjamin Washington, it opens Sept. 8 at the La Jolla Playhouse's Potiker Theatre. lajollaplayhouse.org
Big Fish: A musical about a southern salesman who spins tall tales to his son throughout his life. Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the motion picture by Tim Burton, it opens Sept. 9 at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. moonlightstage.com
The Fox on the Fairway: A country-club president bets on a golf tournament but loses his ringer to the other side in this Caddyshack-esque comedy. It opens Sept. 9 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Return to the Forbidden Planet: Shakespeare's The Tempest gets a sci-fi B-movie makeover complete with a classic-rock soundtrack. It runs through Sept. 6 at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Up Here: The world premiere of the new musical comedy about a computer repairman trying to find happiness and love despite his many neuroses. Composed by the duo behind Avenue Q and In Transit, it runs through Sept. 6 at the La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Unnecessary Farce: Paul Slade Smith's whimsical comedy about a police sting that goes hilariously wrong. It runs through Sept. 12 at the OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.info
The Supporting Cast: George Furth's lighthearted comedy about an author who invites her friends to her beach house to reveal to them that they're characters in her new novel. It runs through Sept. 13 at Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com
Violet: Jeanine Tesori's acclaimed musical about a disfigured young woman making a cross-country trip in hopes that a televangelist can heal her. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through Sept. 13 at the Lyceum Theatre in the Gaslamp. sdrep.org
The Comedy of Errors: Shakespeare's mischievous comedy about mistaken identity and long-lost twins. It runs through Sep. 20 at the Old Globe's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Moon Over Buffalo: Ken Ludwig's comedy about two aging theater actors who may get one more chance to perform on Broadway. Directed by Margo Essman, it runs through Sept. 20 at the Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Mixtape: The Greatest Hits of the ‘80s: The homegrown musical about the ‘80s features songs from some of the biggest pop stars of that time including Duran Duran, The Cure, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and more. Presented by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Sept. 27 at the Horton Grand Theatre in the Gaslamp.
Amazons and Their Men: The West Coast premiere of Jordan Harrison's comically subversive play about German film auteur Leni Riefenstahl. Directed by Matt M. Morrow, it runs through Oct. 4 at the Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest. diversionary.org