Violet

VioletOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 1998 (Resmiranda) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Dorris Betts’ short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” — about a young woman who, maimed by an axe blade as a child, goes on a journey of healing — was the basis for this gem with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Brian Crawley. Lauren Ward’s Violet is a complex heroine; injured inside and out, she’s full of both bitterness and hope, and her lovely performance translates well onto the recording. It’s when Violet’s biting tongue turns sweet that she sings the highlight of the score, “Lay Down Your Head,” with a melody that makes one’s heart ache. The other songs don’t quite reach that level of simple perfection, but a few that come close are the all-too-brief “Water in the Well,” the thrilling “Let It Sing,” and “On My Way,” a rousing ensemble number that sets Violet and her fellow passengers off on their bus trip. Violet’s trek takes her from North Carolina to Oklahoma, where she goes to meet the televangelist whom she hopes will heal her. On the way, she becomes involved in a love triangle with two soldiers, one white (played by Michael Park), the other black (played by Michael McElroy). Crawley tells their story through colloquial lyrics that feel effortless and natural, and Tesori comes up with a handful of fine countrified tunes. Her gospel songs are less distinguished, but the Broadway Gospel Choir and the powerhouse singer-actor McElroy give this spirited musical some real soul. — Brooke Pierce