Violet, book & lyrics by Brian Crawley, music by Jeanine Tesori | Directed by Mitchell Butel

Hayes Theatre Company (http://www.hayestheatre.com.au) & Blue Saint Productions | Hayes Theatre, Potts Point, Sydney | Until 20 December

First produced in 1997, this musical is based on the novel The Loneliest Pilgrim, by Doris Betts, and it centres on Violet (Sam Dodemaid), a girl from a small Blue Ridge Mountain town. The year is 1964 and 12 years ago while her father (Damien Berminham) was chopping wood, the blade from his axe slipped and Violet, then aged 13, who was standing watching, was drastically facially disfigured.

The show begins when Violet sets forth on a 900-mile bus trip to Tulsa, a journey that she hopes will change her life. She is desperately in search of a TV evangelist (Dash Kruck) who she believes can remove the scar on her face through the power of prayer. On the lengthy bus ride to Oklahoma she meets two soldiers, Monty (Steve Danielsen) and Flick (Barry Conrad), and so begins a love triangle of sorts.

Sam Dodemaid plays the pilgrim, with a powerful intensity convincing totally as a woman who is alienated from her peers and community because of her physical impediment. Blended into the story are scenes between the young Violet (Luisa Scrofani) and her father and these flashbacks, especially the complex poker-playing scene, set to fiddling banjos, deliver a dimension that lift if from a simple musical with a predictable plotline, to one that touches both the intellect and the emotional, despite moments of cheesy and corny sentiment.

There are a number of musical highlights beginning with On My Way, Who’ll Be the One (If Not Me) performed perfectly by a trio of serenading cowboys; the magnificent Raise Me Up featuring the amazing vocals of Elenoa Rokobaro; but it is Let It Sing which truly impresses. It is an inspiring uplifting anthem of self-empowerment, perfectly performed by Barry Conrad who has a fabulous singing voice and is so charismatic as Flick, a character also alienated from society by the colour of his skin.

The set (Simon Greer), costumes (Lucetta Stapleton), lights (Ross Graham), and musical direction (Lucy Bermingham) allow the show to swell to a single impressionistic whole that renders the experience emotionally uplifting. Incorporating blues, gospel, country and rock Lucy Bermingham’s musical direction keeps the nine hidden musicians swinging along.

There are times when the power of the music and vocals overpower the small Hayes Theatre and moments when the show appears overly sentimental. However Mitchell Butel’s expert direction navigates us around any potholes and by journey’s end, when Violet finds a new faith, not born from divine intervention but of friendship, comradery and shared stories we are won over.

Thumbs Up!