There are two elements to a theatrical production that I believe to be pretty essential to its success. The first being a well executed exposition. And the other being the ability to hear the words coming out of the performers mouths. Unfortunately neither of these elements were present in Staged! Musical Theatre Series’ most recent production, Violet, written by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley, directed by Elizabeth Klinger, and playing through November 21 at the Interstate Fire House Cultural Center. I walked out of Violet fairly frustrated and still confused about what I saw. For the first 30 minutes of the show (mainly due to the missing elements mentioned above) I was completely lost. It was clear from the beginning note sung by Rebecca McDade (who was a shining light in the performance that I wanted to see more of) that the techs backstage were having issues miking the actors. However, the IFCC’s theater probably seats less than 100 people, a space that one would think most actors/singers could fill with projection. That is if they weren’t almost always being overpowered by the live band they were sharing the stage with. Thus began my frustration with the show’s volume. A frustration that lasted through the entire performance.
And then there was the matter of exposition. The production’s inciting incident, which at the time I thought had something to do with a racially charged murder (later I gathered it was actually the accident that gave the main character Violet a scarred face due to a renegade axe head), was presented in a such a frantic and disjointed way, I couldn’t help but lean over to my theater-going companion and ask “do you know what’s going on?”
About an hour in I started to put things together: I was watching the story of Violet, an Appalachia born girl, who was traveling to Oklahoma via bus in the 1960s to have her scar-ridden visage healed by a charismatic televangelist. Along the way she meets two young US soldiers, one black, one white, who both simultaneously fall for her. Which of course leads to a myriad of musical numbers about ‘not judging books by their covers’ and what it means to have ‘inner beauty’.
Luckily these numbers were, for the most part, filled with some thrilling music, sung by a hard working and committed ensemble. But given that I couldn’t hear 50% of the words in the shows songs and dialogue, their hard work was basically squandered. I hope that Staged! deals with these sound issues before their next weekend of performances. I'd be interested to see how the show plays when volume isn't a problem.