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50 Years Under the Stars: an Interview with TUTS’ Dan Knechtges

With Houston’s renowned Theatre Under the Stars ramping up to enter its 50th season a month from this Friday (11 August 2018), newly-minted artistic director and Tony Award-nominee, Dan Knechtges, sat down to talk to About Magazine about what brought him to Houston, the 50th anniversary, and what the LGBTQIA community can find at TUTS.

(HOUSTON) – Picture it: Houston, 1968. It was the year that the very first NCAA basketball game was broadcast on live TV, featuring the University of Houston Cougar’s and the University of California at Los Angeles’ Bruins at the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Astrodome. It was the year that the since-forgone amusement park, AstroWorld, first opened its gates to the world. It was the year Andy Warhol signed posters at the University of St. Thomas, where he also spoke onstage to students about his work. It was the year that the film Hellfighters was shot just around the corner. Houston was–even fifty years ago–a pinnacle of culture and style. It was on the map. And at the very same time, the enormous amphitheater we now have all come to know and love as the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park had just been rebuilt to the glory we know it for today. Shortly thereafter during that fateful year, a young, Baylor pre-med student named Frank Young took note of the beautifully reconstructed theater and was inspired.

920x920 50 Years Under the Stars: an Interview with TUTS' Dan KnechtgesAssembling a small team, Young dedicated what little free time he had between medical school and working part-time at the Houston Grand Opera as a production manager and occasional chorus vocalist to producing free shows at the outdoor amphitheater. Shortly thereafter, a production of the then-still relatively new Bells Are Ringing premiered with Young at its helm on the the stage of the new Miller Outdoor Theatre right there … well … under the stars. The rest, as they say, is history.

Fifty years and innumerable shows later, including one giant leap to Houston’s Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2002 to the delight and bewitchment of theatergoers throughout the city, TUTS is still the nonprofit that is going strong and producing shows to this day. While most take the main stage at Hobby’s Sarofim Hall, TUTS still produces yearly free performances that take the stage under the night sky at Miller. In that time, TUTS has presented musicals and lent the stage to stars that have gone down in history for their talent. Actors such as the late Debbie Reynolds have graced the stage, and shows as famous as Beauty and the Beast began at TUTS before making the transfer to Broadway for a successful thirteen-year run. TUTS also hosted the opening of the then-new musical Phantom, a second adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera, with a book by Arthur Kopit and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. While this adaptation of Phantom never proved to be quite the seminal Broadway hit that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera (which this year celebrated its 30th anniversary on Broadway and saw a major motion picture treatment), the Yeston and Kopit musical (which never made it to Broadway) still proved to be a financial and celebratory success for Houston audiences.

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TUTS artistic director, Dan Knechtges

Now, ringing in their historic fiftieth season is none other than artistic director and Broadway-gone-Houston transplant, Dan Knechtges, who joined TUTS in late 2017. Knechtges’ CV is nothing short of impressive. The director and choreographer has tackled the stages of the Great White Way, choreographing fan-favorite The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which was nominated for Best Musical at the 59th Annual Tony Awards (and for which Knechtges was nominated for a 2005 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Choreography) and was even nominated for a Tony Award (universally known as the highest honor in theatre) for his choreography of the 2007 Broadway adaptation of the 1980 cult classic film, Xanadu. 

Now, Dan Knechtges is back in Houston, where he previously directed the 2016 revival of the musical How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying. The forthcoming season opens with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, followed by The Wiz, Beauty and the Beast, Mamma Mia!, Ragtime, and the newly-announced Jerome Robbins’ Broadway–an anthology musical that honors the career of Tony Award-winning musical director and choreographer, Jerome Robbins, who directed the Broadway production of TUTS’ very first production at Miller, Bells Are Ringing. And ahead of the premiere of TUTS’ monumental 2018-19 50th anniversary season, Knechtges sat down with About Magazine to discuss what’s in store at TUTS, how he got here, and what the LGBTQIA community can find with his amazing nonprofit organization.


About Magazine: Theatre Under the Stars is a Houston institution, and innumerable people come from far and wide to see the shows TUTS produces at the Hobby Center. Aside from just delivering great theatre, what do you think it is that has kept TUTS going for 50 years?

I think what’s kept TUTS going for 50 years is that it is a community service organization, in addition to being a home for music theatre in Houston. And those two things combined make it this potent thing that keeps attracting people to come to our shows and to be proud of this organization that was grown in Houston, for Houston, and for the betterment of the community.

Tell us a little about your history with TUTS and your story of coming to be the artistic director.

I was a freelance director and choreographer in New York, and I’d always wanted to work with TUTS because of its great reputation. I had known about it because Beauty and the Beast had started here; and it was where Phantom [the Yeston and Kopit adaptation] started. So, I knew it from those various productions and its reputation. I finally got the opportunity when I was asked by Sheldon Epps to direct and choreograph How to Succeed in the fall of 2016. And I had never really spent that much time in Houston and was amazed at how much I really liked Houston, and also the gorgeous theatre. And it won me over. From there, when the position of artistic director became open, several people asked me to put my name in; and I did; and lo and behold, here I am.

The line-up for the forthcoming season is stellar, and people are so excited to see all of these amazing shows. How is it TUTS went about picking them out for this milestone season?

Well, we picked them out because we thought that in order to honor the fiftieth anniversary season of Theatre Under the Stars, we wanted to make it a celebration and a party of musical theatre here in Houston. So, for instance, Oklahoma! is where the modern musical started; and it was a show that was seminal in TUTS development. It’s also the 75th anniversary of that show. So, we decided we’d kick off the season with that. The Wiz is a party through-and-through. You laugh, you cry, and you’re taken on this journey. Beauty and the Beast started here in 1994. It’s the 25th anniversary of that and we could not pass that up. Mamma Mia! is a party from beginning to end. And Ragtime, I have found, has never been done at Theatre Under the Stars; and it is also celebrating its 20th anniversary. And what better way to celebrate than bringing the best of musical theatre? And our sixth show [since announced to be Jerome Robbins’ Broadway]—that is going to be something that I’m very excited to bring to Houston’s community.

Were there any shows that were considered, but that ultimately didn’t make the list?

Yes, there were a few. But I’m not telling you, you nosy person! I’m keeping those hidden because they may appear in later seasons. But, yes, we start with a large list, and we get whittled down. And for one reason or another, meaning there’s no interest among the people here, or we can’t afford it, or we can’t get the rights—which is a very big issue for us, because we’re in a very big market here in Houston— and so there are various issues. But they will always come back and always be recirculated.

What’s it like to work for a theatre company that isn’t only renowned, but that also just puts on such amazing art?

It’s great! Who else—what artist wouldn’t want that?

When you think back over the years that TUTS has been serving the community, what are some of your favorite productions? Both before or since you’ve been in your position?

Well, as I’ve been looking at the history of TUTS, I would have to say that Phantom—the Maury Arthur Kopit version—was an amazing event that Houston was premiering their own production of an original music. And it seemed to sell like hot cakes, and it was a very big deal. And it seems to me that in the history of Theatre Under the Stars, that is at the top of the list. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been most proud of Memphis, because it seemed it was a lot of factors coming into play. We had the involvement of the school; we had a local lead, Simone Gundy, playing our lead along with Barrett Riggins come in from New York. So, it felt like exactly the mission that we are going forward with, which is a combination of Broadway-level, high-caliber talent with the best that Houston has to offer.

TUTS has always been a huge supporter of Houston’s LGBTQ community and it’s no secret that this community loves the theatre. What does it feel like to know that the work you do impacts such an underserved community in such a large way? 

I think musical theatre has been kept alive in the lower parts of its [musical theatre’s] popularity by the LGBTQ community. And, we through their low times, must support them, as well. It’s um … tit-for-tat is probably the wrong word to say. [Laughs] But it’s a reciprocal relationship. And we encourage LGBTQ members to participate in all aspects of Theatre Under the Stars. One of the interesting things is that theatre is a great equalizer. It doesn’t ask if you’re black, white, Asian. It doesn’t ask your color. It doesn’t ask your gender. It doesn’t ask your sexual preference. It just asks you to be a human being and participate. And we celebrate that.

How has TUTS changed in your time with it? 

That’s a good question. I’ve only been here now eight months. But the thing that I feel I am most proud of, along with Hillary Heart, who is the executive director, is that before, it seemed to feel like there were many different departments not working in sync with each other. And one of the things that we’ve been really trying to do is, not only internally make all departments work in synchronicity, but also to make Theatre Under the Stars work synchronistically with all of the other arts organizations. And I feel the wheel starting to turn in that direction.

Looking forward, what are your goals and aspirations for the future not only with TUTS but as an artistic director?

It’s one-in-the-same. I want to be at the forefront—I want TUTS to be at the forefront of musical theatre, which is our mission. And that means being the incubator and the creator of new works. And one of the things going forward is that we’re starting a new works development series that will focus on works that have not been produced elsewhere. We will be developing them, we will be curating writers of musical theatre, and we will ultimately be putting [shows] from development, to readings, to workshops, and then […] ultimately productions on our stage that we can then ship off to Broadway and then to elsewhere. It’s also about Theatre Under the Stars becoming and being the try-out place for Broadway shows so that we get those shows before Broadway does. And that’s about being aggressive in pursuing those opportunities. And that’s one-in-the-same for me as an artistic director—developing new work that goes on to other places.

What’s the one show you’d like to stage at TUTS that hasn’t been done here yet?

Well, that’s complicated. Because both of my shows that I have directed have been done at TUTS. And very recently Dreamgirls was done, which is my #1 favorite show. My #2 favorite show is Follies, which has been done at TUTS, and famously—I heard at the Frank Young memorial—that both times TUTS has done it, it has lost a lot of money. So, we will not being doing Follies, sad to say. I wish we could. That is a complicated questions. I have many favorite shows, but many of them have already been done at Theatre Under the Stars. So, I would have to think a little bit harder on that.

What’s the one thing you’d like the LGBTQ community to know about the work that TUTS does that they may not already? Or maybe a point that can never be reiterated enough?

The point that can never be reiterated enough is that the theatre is the most welcoming place for everyone, and that anybody who is questioning their sexual orientation, their sexual preference, they’re bisexual, they’re transgender, they’re questioning any aspects of their lives—the theatre is a home, both onstage and offstage. We have many vibrant programs that we have members of all ethnicities, all genders, all sexual orientations coming and participating. And those members [of the LGBTQ community] who aren’t involved in those [programs], they should know that they are welcome to participate and we would welcome their participate on all of those committees. And that is to say that we want their stories to be told with their participation.


For season or individual tickets to any of Theatre Under the Stars’ shows, you can follow this link.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Holiday Album

Carols for a Cure Broadway HIV/AIDS BROADWAY CARES EQUITY FIGHTS AIDS

Broadway’s Carols for a Cure is full of holiday favorites sung by Broadway stars for HIV/AIDS.

The Christmas season is in full show tune swing now that the 19th volume of Broadway’s Carols for a Cure has arrived.  The latest compilation from the beloved series continues Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ tradition of pairing the casts from award-winning Broadway musicals with seasonal songs that are both classic and new.  Once again, the result is pure magic and is sure to help make the 2017 holiday season shine brighter than ever before.

“These are all new, original recordings, creatively arranged and performed by the incredibly talented performers and musicians from the 2017 Broadway season,” explains producer Lynn Pinto who, once again, collaborates with engineer Andros Rodriguez on the album. Pinto allows each company a great deal of freedom in choosing the material and the style of the arrangement. She adds, “We record the musicians and singers in layers, utilizing isolation booths for a higher quality recording. It gives the album a unique sound from most cast albums and allows us to showcase some of the best voices and instrumentalists in the world.”

The first Broadway’s Carols for a Cure album debuted in 1999, making this year’s album the 19th in the annual series.  Fans of Broadway will be overjoyed  to hear recordings from Tony Award winning casts of Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, Come From Away and many more:

ALADDIN O Come All Ye Faithful 

ANASTASIA All Those Christmas Cliches 

AVENUE Q The 12 Days of Christmas

BEAUTIFUL Love at Christmas Time

A BRONX TALE I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

CATS Joy to the World

CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY Do You Hear What I Hear?

CHICAGO This Is The Night 

COME FROM AWAY It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

DEAR EVAN HANSEN Down In Yon Forest

GROUNDHOG DAY Oh Little Town of Punx, PA

HAMILTON Chester

JERSEY BOYS (National)Let’s Have an Old Fashioned Jersey Christmas

KINKY BOOTS Hark! The Herald Angel Sing

THE LION KING Everyone’s a Kid at Christmas

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Old Fashioned Christmas

SCHOOL OF ROCK Yule of Rock

WAITRESS I Wonder What You Got For Me

WAR PAINT I Can’t Wait For Christmas

WICKED God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Highlights are copious but include Billy Porter and the cast of Kinky Boots singing an all-new, rockin’ version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and the cast of A Bronx Tale performing “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” in a New Yawker-style that will have listeners humming for days.

Additionally, Meghan Toohey (Sara Barielles’ long-time guitarist) serves up a lovely 1960s-style original song, “Wonder What You Got For Me,” featuring the talented Anastacia McCleskey and the rest of the company and band from Waitress; and Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the composer/lyricist team behind Anastasia perform their original carol, “All Those Christmas Cliches,” along with their award-winning cast.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is a nonprofit organization that helps individuals with serious illnesses including HIV/AIDS receive the health care and support they need.  In addition, they provide financial support in the form of grants to HIV/AIDS and family service organizations throughout the country.

“The 19th volume of Broadway’s Carols for a Cure is the best yet,” promises Lynn Pinto.  “It exudes such warmth, like a cozy blanket on a snowy Winter’s day.”

“Broadway’s Carols for a Cure” can be purchased in the web store at BroadwayCares.org or by calling Broadway Cares at 212-840-0770.  The individual tracks are also available on iTunes.

Singles from the album can be purchased on here on iTunes

GLAAD Announces Media Awards Nominees

Glaad Media Awards 2016 Nominees

(CNN)GLAAD announced the nominees for the 27th annual GLAAD Media Awards on Wednesday, and for the first time, more than 50% of the English-language nominations are trans-inclusive.

Nominees include Oscar-nominated films like “Carol” and popular TV shows such as “Empire” and “Orange is the New Black.” Streaming services earned a record seven nominations (up from three last year), with Netflix bagging five of those.

The nominees for outstanding film (wide release) are “Carol,” “The Danish Girl,” “Dope,” “Freeheld” and “Grandma.” “Arrow,” “Black Sails,” “Empire,” “The Fosters,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Nashville,” “Orphan Black,” “Sense8” and “Shameless” are nominated for outstanding drama series.

Outstanding reality program nominees are “I Am Cait,” “I Am Jazz,” “New Girls on the Block,” “The Prancing Elites Project” and “Transcendent.”

GLAAD — the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization — announced 101 nominees in 20 English-language categories and 46 Spanish-language nominees in 11 categories. Cable networks earned 27 nominations while broadcast networks garnered 18.

“For nearly three decades, the GLAAD Media Awards have propelled inclusion in media and driven LGBT acceptance forward,” GLAAD Chief Executive Officer and President Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “This year’s nominees have raised the bar for creating thoughtful and diverse LGBT images and storylines, deepening audiences’ understanding of LGBT people and accelerating acceptance across the world.”

GLAAD Media Awards ceremonies will be April 2 at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles and May 14 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. For the first time in a decade, the ceremony will be aired on Logo in April.

THEATRE REVIEW: ‘Violet’ at the Queensbury Theatre

Teresa Zimmermann Violet Queensbury Theatre Musical theatre Houston

Flick echoes to Violet, “But you said a leading lady / is what you wanna be …” And goddamnit, that is exactly what Zimmermann is — a leading lady. […] Violet is the first musical I’ve seen since seeing Hamilton that has kept my attention the entire time and made me want the story to never end.

(HOUSTON) – There were so many things going through my head about the production of Violet that we were invited to see open at the Queensbury Theatre in Houston just last night that I simply could not get the words I wanted to say out on paper. It didn’t help that the wine from the after party had been free and copious. But now the feelings have settled — and that’s the magic of a show like Violet, or maybe at least the magic of this cast and crew: they evoked so many emotions throughout the course of the show.

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Teresa Zimmermann + Co. in Violet. Photo by Christian Brown.

The show follows a woman named Violet Karl in 1964 rural America and is based on the short story “The Uglies Pilgrim” by Doris Betts, with a book and lyrics by Brian Crawley and music by Jeanin Tesori. The titular character, Violet — played by the incomparable Teresa Zimmermann — journeys by Greyhound Bus from her hometown (Spruce Pines, NC) to Tulsa, OK in order to find a televangelist preacher she believes can heal a nasty scar on her face that she received as a child when a rogue axe blade gashed her. Along the way, we see Violet meet a cast of eclectic characters in vain of The Canterbury Tales as she pilgrimages to her miracle, which is sure to never come. While on the bus, she meets two soldiers — Monty and Flick (whose race as a black man in the army is an important plot piece to the story) — who share their stories with her, tease her, and inevitably go after her heart in spite of one another.

Let’s start right at the front of the production. The Queensbury’s main stage is no small theatre, but when it comes to seat capacity, it is significantly smaller than the likes of the Hobby Center or even the Alley. The venue hosts only 250 seats in the entire house, giving it the coziness of a Broadway theater — most of which only seat 750-1000 patrons at a time — as opposed to the vast largeness of a theater like the Hobby Center, which hosts upwards of 3,000. There isn’t really a bad seat in the entire house, which is a rare thing to say in the theatre. But what makes that fact so much more interesting is just how gorgeous the architecture of the stage was to look at. The work of scenic designer Ryan McGettigan and scenic artist Abi Harris set the tone of the musical from the moment patrons found their seats, with its grays and browns that painted the imaginations of many, they created an authentic look and feel of 1964 rural America. This coupled with the brilliant lighting design by Jack Jacobs not only enhanced the feel of the story, but somehow aesthetically mirrored the music of the show. The band in the background (comprised of Jim Vukovich — who also served as music director — Jonathan Craft, Kristen Roberts, Daron Kirsch, Anthony Russell, Craig Andrew Edgar, and David Lerner) was flawless from beginning to end. Their synchronicity was so well fused that one might have thought the music had been playing from a track if it weren’t for their slight visibility in the wings. But the show would have been nothing without its phenomenal choreography and direction. It was clear from start to finish that the separate visions of director Marley Singletary, choreographer Bethany White, assistant director Holland Vavra, and producer RP Cameron was so well aligned that even if and when they may strayed a bit from each other, they strayed in all the right places. The way White’s choreography not only entertained, but gave depth to the characters personalities was nothing short of masterful — especially so in the cases of characters like Flick, Monty, and the Preacher. And the direction given to Violet — certainly not without a few character choices from Zimmermann herself — from Singletary and Vavra was the key component in making Violet not only unlikeable, but endearing.

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Adam Gibbs + Derrick Brent II in Violet. Photo by Christian Brown.

The only technical complaints I might have had about the show came down to the sound. While it seemed that sound designer Bryan Nortin did an amazing job making sure that the mixes were professional and sleek, there were moments in the show when it became hard to hear actress Theresa Nelson‘s mic over the band. Unfortunately, this took a bit away from the show, as Nelson is an incredible comedic actress and singer and had some of the show’s funniest lines both musical and in word. There was also a slight hiccup toward the beginning when Brian Mathis‘s mic pack seemed to catch some interference and buzzed over his beautiful, syrupy-smooth singing voice. This slight only lasted a few seconds during the number “Luck of the Draw” and was quickly rectified, however. The cast and band, nonetheless, powered through it unfazed, with Mathis even raising his voice to be heard over it.

On the whole, the cast was absolutely phenomenal. The harmonies from the chorus to the leads was something to marvel at in group numbers such at the beginning and end. But by god I have not heard such underrated and triumphant voices in a musical as I have of Jennifer Barrett and Tye Lockett. Anytime either of those women had even the shortest solo throughout the musical, the hair on my arms stood and I could feel myself coming out of my seat to shout their praises. It was all I could do to not take both my shoes off and throw both at the stage.

 

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Front: Jennifer Barrett + Co. in Violet. Photo by Christian Brown.

Furthering on the point of vocals, the cast was nearly flawless. Actor Adam Gibbs (Monty) showed off an enormous range in “Last Time I Came to Memphis”. While the song was masterfully performed, Gibbs proved to be such an incredible actor when it came to playing the skeezy, sex-driven man that I almost couldn’t applaud his song due to how good at making me uncomfortable Gibbs was. I hope he finds that this statement is an honest compliment to his skill. What a truly talented actor he is. When it came to Derrick Brent II — who played Violet’s true love interest, Flick — I had no issue believing that he was his character. The sweetness, kindness, and even the subdued rage at some of Violet’s less kind comments was so easy for him to pull off that one might have thought he’d lived the story before himself. That being said, Brent’s vocals varied a bit. For the bulk of the show, he truly carried out the songs to their finest points. Although, a time or two — notably during the number “Let It Sing” — Brent appeared to be lost in his trials of mimicking the runs and riffs of Broadway cast Flick, Joshua Henry. Still, Brent carried it out with confidence and his acting skills pulled him through. It is nothing to fault him over, as when it came down to more necessary musical moments — such as his ending harmonies with Zimmermann — Brent was flawless. Brent’s most powerful point of interest is how synced-up he seemed with the underlying story of race in 1964 America. While the moments of issue with his Blackness were fleeting and few between, his portrayal and reactions were so strong that you never forgot that a large part of what this story is about is the beauty of being a Black person and how it should be celebrated for the plights Black people have suffered in American history (even currently).

Honorable mentions from the production are hard to do, because so many of the actors stood out to me. Nelson, of course, had the comedic timing of a professional, sitcom-grade thespian. She played three parts with the ease and difference that made it easy to tell character-from-character — something difficult to do in the theatre. Mathis — who played Violet’s father — not only sounded like honey, but he looked like it, too. His sweetness with his on-stage daughter was reminiscent of a true father’s love for his only child and his harder times with her — including a scene in which he rushes Violet to the doctor through rough terrain — brought me to tears several times over.

Then, of course, there was Young Violet herself, Miss Kelly Lomonte. Damn. The pipes on that girl were nothing short of classically-trained and inspired. Her characterization of Young Violet, however ranged from sweet, to assertive, to irreverent throughout the entire show. Few and far between are young actors who can carry a show the way Young Violet is written to, but Lomonte pulled it off with the kind of ease I’ve not even seen in much older, much more seasoned, and less green actors in various productions throughout my adult life. Brava to Lomonte.

Another fun actor to watch — especially so when he donned the green church choir gown — was Doug Atkins. Atkins’ performance was so funny and well-timed comedically, I often didn’t know how much of it was stage direction, how much was character choice, and how much was sheer improv. The other actors played off of him so well because as he clapped and raised his hands to praise Jesus, and he breathed life and a second into the rest of the cast as the second half of the intermission-less show chugged on to remind them what they were there to do — entertain.

I would, of course, be remiss if I did not talk about the show’s star.

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Zimmermann on Great Day Houston promoting Violet.

As someone who has known Teresa Zimmermann professionally only for a short time, but one who has seen her perform more than a handful of times, I can truly say that Violet is my favorite role to have seen her in yet. Zimmermann did something not easy for any actor to do — she took a character of many layers and presented each one honestly. Zimmermann’s Violet, for me — someone who has seen Sutton Foster play the role on Broadway — is the only Violet. Zimmermann did not waste time trying to learn the ins-and-outs of what Foster had once brought to the role; and instead studied the character with such professional studiousness that it was often hard to remember that this was an actor playing the role. She so easily transitioned from indignation to hope and joy that I was reminded of how quick and fleeting emotion is in the human capacity to exist. A number in particular where Zimmermann exhibited this transition was in the number “All to Pieces”, in which Violet tells Flick and Monty of the perfect face she’d like to have if she is healed by the preacher. The only performance even possibly comparable to Zimmermann’s number I have ever seen in my life is that of superstar Idina Menzel in the original Broadway production of Wicked as she sings “The Wizard and I.” Through the entire number, that was all I could think about — “Teresa is bringing Elphaba’s hope in “Wizard” to this song.” That was truly an inspired number to see Teresa perform.

Zimmermann conquered the task that all actors put before themselves: make this character a real, corporeal person that people will understand and relate to. Violet is known for being ugly both in aesthetic and personality; and while Zimmermann herself is quite beautiful, it wasn’t hard to believe that she believed that she was ugly. And that’s sort of beautiful. What made me cry the hardest through this entire show were those parts in which Violet’s self-loathing inspired songs of desire and hatred. It gave me introspection into my own life, times when I’d hated my body or my face in a picture, and reminded me that even if that is the case, someone out there can see you and find you to be truly beautiful. Her hope and needs are so easy to attach to, because they’re the hopes and needs of all human beings: to be loved.

I couldn’t praise Zimmermann enough if I tried. Thinking about her singing “Lay Down Your Head” as Monty slept in her arms brings me to tears, because the character finally begins to arc as she realizes that she’s not only capable of being loved and treated with respect, but that she deserves it. Zimmermann is such a concentrated actress that even in flashback scenes in which she sits quietly downstage in character, it is hard to take your eyes off of her when the story is happening upstage with Young Violet and her father because she does not let a single thing distract her from the character she’s become. Her comedic timing is incredible, her voice is undeniably authentic and original — something hard to come by in the theatre — and her presence draws you in for more again-and-again. At one point, Flick echoes to Violet, “But you said a leading lady / is what you wanna be …” And goddamnit, that is exactly what Zimmermann is — a leading lady. I’ll say it again, Zimmermann is the only Violet.

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Brian Mathis + Zimmermann in Violet. Photo by Christian Brown.

Violet is not only a story of love, heartbreak, self-loathing, and pain, it is a smash hit. It is the first musical I’ve seen since seeing Hamilton this past spring and Wicked for the first time in 2009 before that that has kept my attention the entire time and made me want the story to never end. Any theatre-goer who would miss this production would be a fool.

All-About-It THEATRE REVIEW: 'Violet' at the Queensbury Theatre


Violet runs at the Queensbury Theatre (formerly the Country Playhouse) at 12777 Queensbury Ln, Houston, TX, 77024 through September 23rd. The Queensbury Theatre — while smaller in capacity — has all the makings of a stage along the Great White Way. Tickets are available here.

Queensbury Theatre

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