At first Leigh Silverman thought Violet was a one-night-only event, but she was quickly proven wrong.
The Drama Desk nominee, whose directing credits include Well, Chinglish, Coraline, From Up Here and Yellow Face, helmed the sold-out concert production of Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley's musical at City Center in July 2013 as part of its Encores! Off-Center season. The one-night-only concert sold out, and Silverman is now bringing the production to the American Airlines Theatre in its Broadway debut.
Violet, which premiered Off-Broadway in 1997 at Playwrights Horizons, follows a young woman who, after being disfigured as a child by a tragic accident, embarks on a bus journey seeking an evangelist who she thinks can cure her. While traveling, she encounters two soldiers, as well as romance and prejudice in several forms, and finally faces her past as she considers the possibility of a different future.
The Off-Broadway production of Violet was honored with the Obie Award, Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical. The Broadway premiere stars two-time Tony Award winner Sutton Foster in the title role, Colin Donnell, Joshua Henry, Alexander Gemignani, Ben Davis, Annie Golden and Emerson Steele. Silverman spoke with Playbill.com about Violet's message of inner and outer beauty and the growing number of female directors on Broadway.
How does it feel to bring Violet to Broadway?
Leigh Silverman: It's amazing for me. When Jeanine asked me to do the concert last summer, I thought this was going to be a one-night-only thing. Sutton was like, "This part's not really for me. We'll see how it goes." And after that first rehearsal, it just became clear we had to have Violet forever, frankly, as far as I'm concerned. It is such a universal story. I feel incredibly lucky and so grateful to have this amazing music in my life every day.
Violet goes on an incredible journey in the musical — both physical and emotional. Tell me a little about her story.
LS: I feel like Violet's journey is one of healing. She has this scar across her face, and I feel like the scar actually serves as a metaphor also. We all have scars. We all want to be healed. I think her healing happens in a way that she didn't quite expect, and she finds herself having walked through unimaginable hell, and she's found herself on the other side. I think it's a story that really can appeal to everyone. It's so universal. And, as it's performed by Sutton, so human and so moving. I just think, "How can you not feel so connected to someone like her?" I really think this show is for everybody in that way.
I think what's explored racially, what's explored between the genders... it's a play that has so many really important themes, all of which are explored through gorgeous music. What more could you ask for in a piece of musical theatre?
Violet has such a powerful message about inner beauty. What do you think it says to people about physical appearance?
LS: The show really touches on Violet's obsession with being pretty. She has this disfiguring scar across her face, and she wants so badly for someone to look past the scar and see the girl who's underneath. And I just think that is something that, whether you have that disfigurement or not, is something that we all understand. Happily, the world now wants stories like this. They want stories about girls and women who are finding their power, and I think that's part of why Violet feels so right to be doing right now.
How are you adapting the musical from the concert to a Broadway production?
LS: I've been trying to hold onto the heart of what happened in the concert, because I feel like the theatrical way of telling that story is really the way that we wanted to go. But now I have a terrific set design and costumes that will support the storytelling. And, my goal is to make it feel effortless and theatrical and surprising.
You're one of a growing number of female directors on Broadway. Can you tell me about directing as woman?
LS: I feel like certainly Off-Broadway has opened itself up more to women, and I feel like Off-Broadway has become a very hospitable place for female directors. I think Broadway, less so, although that's also changing. When I directed Well on Broadway in 2006, I was like the seventh woman to have ever directed a play on Broadway, and there were like seven women directors alone last year. So I feel like it's changing, and I'm so grateful to places like the Roundabout, who are willing to say, "We want to tell this story, and we want you to do it."
(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)