Jeanine Tesori's baby is all grown up. Seventeen years after her first musical opened Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, Violet, which features music by Tesori and a book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, is now making its Broadway debut.
Based on Dorris Betts' short story "The Ugliest Pilgrim," which Tesori first discovered as a movie on Showtime in the 80s, Violet follows a young Southern woman who embarks on a bus trip seeking the help of a TV evangelist whom she hopes can heal a large facial scar that is the result of a tragic childhood accident. The original Off-Broadway cast featured Lauren Ward, Michael Park and Michael McElroy; the Broadway production, directed by Leigh Silverman, features two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster, Colin Donnell and Joshua Henry.
Tesori chatted with Playbill.com about Violet's long journey to Broadway.
You wrote Violet while living in a lighthouse. Please tell me that story.
Jeanine Tesori: I was a conductor, and I was trying to figure out what the next plan was going to be. I saw my life sort of in the next phase. Being a sideman is really grueling work. I think a lot of people don't realize what it's like to play eight shows a week in the dark, wearing black, not being seen, only being heard. It's really hard on your body, that kind of repetition. It's a great gig, but it's grueling. It's mentally hard to do the same thing, time after time after time. I wanted to know what was going to be next. Then with the help of my mentor, who encouraged me to go for a Plan B... He said, "If you're not going to go for it now, what are you waiting for?" I thought, "What am I waiting for? What am I so scared of?"
I knew the town of Westport, NY, very well because I had done theatre up there, and I'd made a couple of very dear friends. I gave three months notice at the show I was with, called up there and they said, "The only house we know of that's available right now is the lighthouse that's privately owned." I said, "I don't care. I'll take it." It was $300 a month. It's absolutely isolated. That was the year there were 15 snowstorms, so I was snowed in much of the time. I brought up a piano and laser discs to study, scores and books and paints. I wanted to know what I was going to do when I didn't have time, how I was going to combat loneliness — all that stuff that you need to know, I think, when you're a writer.
I'd never taken a shot at writing full time. I thought, "If I'm going to eat Nestle Crunch bars the whole time, I'd better find out now." I remember thinking that I was built for it when I'd been up there for a few months and someone said, "What channels do you get on the TV?" and I said, "I don't know. I haven't turned it on." That was a clue for me.
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