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Music and Memory of the Civil Rights Era in Skylight Music Theater's 'Violet'

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Mark Frohna
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Lamar Jefferson (Flick) and Allie Babich (Violet) in Skylight Music Theatre’s 'Violet.'";

The Civil Rights era was a defining time in American history, and the reverberations are still being felt today.

A contemporary musical, Violet, explores those early days of the modern civil rights era through the eyes of a young woman – Violet – traveling through 1964 America.

"This production was written to reflect September 4, 1964, two months after the civil rights act was signed by Lyndon Johnson," says director Sheri Pannell. "It takes place during the time of the escalation of the Vietnam war, a time when women were also seeking rights, a time of the migrant workers. There was a great social justice movement in America."

During this period of upheaval and social change, Violet travels by Greyhound bus through the southern United States. "As she travels, she hears this music," Pannell explains. "So it's creating a memory of an era...the look, the feel, the sound of this time."

"The story really is told through the music," says interim Skylight Music artistic director Ray Jivoff. "Violet starts in the mountains, and you hear that mountain music. As she proceeds to Memphis, you hear Memphis rhythm and blues," he details. "And then she's on her way to a televangelist revival meeting, and the stage explodes with a gospel revival song. The music is just the core of the storytelling, and that, to me, is the real appeal."

Skylight Music Theater’s season premiere – the musical Violet – opens tomorrow night at the Cabot Theater.

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.