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Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley’s Violet is a musical with a large heart and very little of the flash and spectacle that characterizes too many Broadway productions these days. The show had a successful Off-Broadway run in 1997, winning numerous awards. Violet had had a limited run on Broadway in 2014 with a starry cast headed by Sutton Foster, but it remains a small-scale and subtle property best suited to an intimate theatre production.

Violet (Claire Adams) is an independent-minded young woman with shocking facial scars from a childhood accident. One point of genius in the show is that Violet’s disfigurement is not realistically depicted. We understand its gravity by the reactions of the other characters.

Alone in the world since the death of her Father (John Allsopp), Violet boards a bus in Spruce Pine, North Carolina in 1964 with the clear, if unlikely, destination of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her goal is to meet a famous television evangelist so that her face can be healed.

Like other quest stories, we’re talking Horton Foote’s A Trip to Bountiful rather than Bilbo Baggins and his friends, the journey turns out to be more enlightening than the destination. Most of Violet’s adventures include two soldiers on their way to a new base. Monty (Matthew West) is a self-proclaimed ladies man who reveals much more depth than one initially presumes. Flick (Jamaul Bakare) is a self-aware African American who has an immediate connection with Violet. A dangerous thing in the Jim Crow South.

Boston saw a production of Violet that was performed on a moving bus. While I’m sure there were charms to this immersive experience, I’m guessing that Richard Israel’s transformation of the Actors Co-op space into a ¾ thrust with a creatively conceived bus (courtesy of Nicholas Acciani’s wonderfully effective scenic design) offers better sightlines and acoustics. Beyond the visual concept, Israel directs the show with a tightly focused eye on the emotional truth of the characters. He allows space for the relationships to build and we are drawn in without ever being conscious of it.

Adams anchors the show with an uncompromising portrait of a courageous young woman who’s lived a life filled with physical and emotional pain. Her powerful voice brings a raw edge to Tesori’s more dramatic musical moments. Bakare is a wonderfully engaging performer whose vocals soar effortlessly, and he is just as adept at mining the character’s sensitivity. West gives a wonderfully cocky and vigorous performance with lively vocals that fill the space.

Most of the excellent 12-member cast play multiple roles as riders on the bus and the citizens of the new cities they visit along the way. They all create memorable characterizations, but special mention must be made of Allsopp’s tower of strength turn as Violet’s Father, Lori Berg’s chameleon portrayals of the Old Lady and the Hotel Hooker, Kevin Shewey’s despicable Preacher, and Benai Boyd’s rousing vocals. They don’t overshadow the fact that her Lulu Buffington gets the best laugh in the show.

Tesori is one of our musical treasures (pun intended) and, though an early effort, Violet’s score shows that she was already the artist the world would come to admire with Caroline, or Change and Fun Home. She is particularly well served by the care Musical Director Taylor Stephenson takes with both the band and his cast.

Violet is the kind of show that gets under your skin and burrows into your heart, and this skilfull production only maximizes that connection.

Actors Co-op    May 11 – June 17, 2018



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.