The musical Violet makes its South African debut

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Violet, facially disfigured by a childhood accident, journeys on a Greyhound bus in search for a televangelist and a miraculous transformation.

Violet - The MusicalWith music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, Violet tells the story of a young woman facially disfigured by a childhood accident. Set in 1960s America, Violet is convinced that a televangelist can heal her. Embarking on a 900-mile journey on a Greyhound bus in search of a miraculous transformation, Violet forms unlikely friendships with her fellow passengers, who teach her about beauty, courage and what it means to be an outsider. Violet’s shame, self-loathing and quest for beauty highlights the emphasis on physical appearance and unrealistic beauty standards that were as prevalent in the 1960s as they are today.

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Violet is based on Doris Betts’ short story ‘The Ugliest Pilgrim’, and is presented as a collaboration between the Oakfields College Faculty of Musical Theatre and Dance and the University of Pretoria Drama Department, under the direction of Fulbright specialist, Dr Harold Mortimer from Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre at The University of Oklahoma, USA.

It first premiered Off-Broadway in 1997 when it won the Drama Critics’ Circle Award and Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical before going on to a Tony-nominated Broadway debut in 2014 with a revised version, astounding critics and audiences alike in two separate decades. Violet is a poignant story and a moving musical featuring show-stopping anthems, incorporating tangy flavours of country, gospel, blues and honky-tonk rock music that is bound to appeal to a wide scope of audiences.

This production of Violet marks its South African debut as well as the first collaboration between Oakfields College and the UP Drama Department. Prof Marié-Heleen Coetzee from UP Drama states that ‘such collaboration provides students with an opportunity to learn from each other, exchange skills and expand their reach. It further promotes interaction between students from different institutions in order to create a network of peers who can assist each other in navigating a very demanding professional environment. Further, working with an international director offers students a benchmarking opportunity and allows them to to develop a ‘glocal’ mindset.” Dr Mortimer has worked with both institutions on musical theatre productions before.

Dr Mortimer’s involvement in this South African production of Violet is made possible by The Fulbright Specialist Program which was established in 2001 by the by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Mortimer received his doctorate and master of music degrees in vocal performance from the University of Washington and his bachelor degree in music education from Mansfield University (PA). He is currently associate dean and endowed professor at the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre at the University of Oklahoma. He served as Head of the Musical Theatre program at Ball State University, has taught at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in New York and has given workshops across the USA and around the world. His creative credits as actor/director/musical director include professional productions such as Anything Goes, Carousel, Oklahoma!, Cabaret, Company, Die Fledermaus, Godspell, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, I Love You, You’re Perfect…, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. His former students are/were on Broadway (Mean Girls, Miss Saigon, Hamilton, Wicked, My Fair Lady, Carousel, Hello, Dolly!, Phantom, Wicked, Hairspray, Mamma Mia, Beauty and the Beast, Spamalot etc.), national tours as well as countless regional theatre productions.
He says that the choice to present Violet in South Africa was largely influenced by the topical issues presented throughout the musical such as prejudice based on physical appearance as well as underlying components of racism and class that pervade humanity and relates to all societies, no matter on what continent one lives. ‘Violet’s journey’ he says, ‘shows us that people can become better versions of themselves through love, acceptance, and forgiveness.’

Jackie Rens, head of department for the Oakfields College Faculty of Musical Theatre and Dance says that these “opportunities for international, skills-sharing processes is a valuable opportunity for students. Not only does it allow young performers to gain global perspectives by working with acclaimed professionals such as Dr Mortimer, but these processes also help solidify international relationships and build cultural exchange within the performing arts sector.’

This production of Violet marks its South African debut and will run at The Lesedi, Joburg Theatre from 9-11 August 2019 each day at 15:00 and 20:00.

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