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'Violet' review: A young woman, scarred but determined

Samantha Carroll and Jay McKenzie star in

Samantha Carroll and Jay McKenzie star in "Violet" at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, through May 17, 2015. Credit: Theresa Grillo

On the visible spectrum of light, violet is at one extreme. It radiates the shortest wavelength among colors. Any shorter, its rays would be invisible.

That's the miracle Violet prays for. The title character in the 1997 Off-Broadway musical, now seeing the light in a spirited Smithtown resurrection, boards a bus from her hillbilly North Carolina hometown bound for Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she believes a TV evangelist will render her disfiguring scar invisible. (Sutton Foster re-created the role on Broadway last year, but this production reflects the original.)

Oh, we of little faith know from the get-go that hers is a fool's errand. That's no spoiler. Any more than it is to reveal that we only once glimpse the scar that has all but defined Violet's life.

Directed with emotional resonance by Ken Washington, "Violet" is about much more than the errant ax blade wielded with no evil intent by her father, cleaving his child's face. Not even Dad, perhaps especially him, can look her in the eyes.

Samantha Carroll as Violet embraces the scar tissue we imagine. She lures us into fantasy-collaboration, though we know it's folly. Everyone, from the bus driver (Michael Bertolini) to a guileless passenger (Patrice Richardson), recoils in horror. That includes two soldiers bound for Fort Smith, Arkansas. It's 1964, early in the Vietnam debacle but still prime time for racism. Bobby Peterson as Monty, a white kid of privilege -- "Don't call me Montgomery" -- exudes an ambivalence that Violet can't quite negotiate. Does he feel sorry for her? Will he take advantage of her because she's easy pickings? Jay McKenzie as Flick, a black soldier, knows about skin deep. He blows us away in heartfelt endorsements of Violet's self-healing powers -- forget the preacher -- in "Let It Sing." Hayleigh Jusas as young Violet exudes vulnerability and resilience, though she sounded shrill in an over-miked Act I. Steve Corbellini as Violet's dad won't remind you of anyone's hick, but he projects remorse right out of the ballpark in "Down the Mountain."

Gospel soloist Amanda-Camille Isaac inspires us with "Raise Me Up," while Bertolini, doubling as the preacher, executes a pitch-perfect landing, accompanying Carroll in her urgent "Look at Me" plea. Melissa Coyle's orchestra tunefully accompanies the score by Long Island native Jeanine Tesori, whose "Fun Home" is currently a Tony best-musical candidate.

Meanwhile, don't miss Smithtown's "Violet."


WHEN | WHERE 2 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through May 17, Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 Main St.

TICKETS $20-$35; 631-724-3700,

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