Full Synopsis

Full Synopsis

The story begins on a sleepy street in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina on September 4, 1964. Perhaps the only sounds to be heard are a breeze in the trees, a creaking window shutter and a lazy dog sniffing-up trouble. Two scenes are taking place simultaneously. In the present, Violet is kneeling on a bench with her back to us, reading a bus schedule. In the past, Young Vi, about thirteen, is gathering split kindling to the percussive sound of wood being chopped. The two are in separate domains, unaware of each other (“Water in the Well”).

Leroy Evans, a man walking his dog, approaches Violet and asks if she's going anywhere. It's obvious that he won't look her straight in the face. She doesn't respond to him. Rather, she looks at her luggage and comments on how stupid this town is. Of course she is going somewhere – she is sitting at a bus station with her luggage ("Surprised").

The bus pulls in, and Violet and an Old Lady gather their bags and board the bus. The Old Lady finally looks at Violet's face and is taken aback by the huge scar (which the audience never sees). An axe blade split her face in two when she was a child, and she has lived with this scar ever since. Violet is on her way to Tulsa, Oklahoma; the Old Lady is on her way to Nashville to see her family ("On My Way").

The bus stops for twenty minutes at Kingsport, Tennessee (“M&M’s). Violet takes a place at the rest stop grill and orders a tuna fish sandwich. Seeing her grotesque scar, the waiter asks her to take a place at one of the booths; he doesn't want the rest of the customers to be frightened because of her. Flick, a black soldier who has been riding on the bus with her, is talking with Monty, a white paratrooper. The two are preparing to play cards. The waiter looks at Flick with a prejudiced disdain. Flick and Monty move to a table, and Violet follows them, asking to join them in a game of straight draw poker.

The scene shifts back in time, and we see Young Vi being scolded for failing math at school. She also gets scolded for getting short-changed at the grocery store. To teach her some arithmetic, her father sits her down and teaches her draw poker, which will aid her in learning subtraction and give her "something to do with boys," when the time comes for that ("Luck of the Draw"). Pretty soon, Young Vi is beating her father at cards, and Older Violet is beating Flick and Monty.

The Bus Driver announces that the bus will be leaving in five minutes. Violet continues talking with Flick, who is impressed with her card dealing. She tells him that growing up high on a mountain, with her mother dying so early, there wasn't anything to do except play cards with her father. She tells him that she is traveling to Tulsa to see a television preacher who is also a healer. With his aid, she plans to return home, beautiful. Flick laughs at her and her preacher. He'd trade his black skin for her scar, any day! Violet says that she doesn't have any need for black skin; she wants people to think that she's pretty! Flick runs off, obviously hurt by her remark. Monty calms Violet down. We learn that her father died three years ago, and that she has seen many doctors about her scarred face. They all said that she waited too long, so seeing this faith healer is her last hope. Monty warns her to be careful and not to put too much hope in this healing preacher ("Question and Answer"). In the midst of his advice, Monty grabs Violet's catechism and starts to read from it mockingly. Violet cries out, and Flick comes to her aid, stopping Monty from acting so childishly.

In a flashback, Young Vi is hiding in the attic, reading by flashlight. She hears her father calling from downstairs. He enters the room, demanding that Vi give over the book. It is just her mother's catechism, but he feels as though she is too young to be reading it. It isn't the religion that bothers him; it's what Mama wrote inside that worries him. Vi asks her father if it is true that her mother was pretty. Her father doesn't want any questions from his young daughter. When Violet pleads that her mother was her age when she wrote in the catechism, he says that it was it was different for her mother.

A new driver speaks over the P.A. system as they reach the Nashville station. The Old Lady invites Violet to stay overnight at her son's house in Nashville. That way, she can freshen up and be on her way tomorrow. Violet turns down the Old Lady's offer, saying that she's in a hurry to get to Tulsa. The woman presses the point by saying that it's not proper for a young girl to travel alone with two soldiers. Flick and Monty are rude to the woman, and she leaves. Violet is not impressed by their actions. Things will be different for Violet after she is changed in Tulsa. She's ready for a transition. She wants to look like every famous movie star out there with looks to spare. With all of her beauty, someone might meet her and fall in love with her ("All to Pieces"). As the two men board the bus, Violet sees her accident happen in her mind.

Violet dreams that she is being healed in the Preacher's chapel. Young Vi is brought up to the Preacher, who heals her scarred face in front of a television audience. Soon, she is nudged by Flick, who hears her talking in her sleep. Once again, they discuss Violet's situation and how she wants to change. As far as Violet is concerned, people take one look at her and think that's all there is. She wants people to see past her scar and get to know her for who she really is. Flick has a hard time understanding this, because, as a black man in 1960s America, he will always be marked by the color of his skin. He tells her: You choose your road and then you walk it alone, one step at a time ("Let It Sing").

The bus arrives at Memphis, the last stop. Everyone leaves the bus to make connections. Flick and Monty plan on spending the night in Memphis at a nearby boarding house, and Flick asks Violet to join them, since her bus doesn't leave until the next morning at 6AM. Violet doesn't think that it would be right. Instead, she plans to spend the night with some relatives that she has there. She has never met them, but she is certain that they will take her in. Monty goes to call her a cab. While he is gone, several mechanics get in a racial dispute with Flick that erupts into a huge fight. They mock Violet's face; she gets enraged and joins the altercation. When Monty returns, he helps Violet and Flick beat the two men. They steal Violet's suitcase as they run off. The suitcase contained the dress that Violet had planned to wear the next day, as well as her relatives' telephone number. She has no choice but to stay with Flick and Monty. The boys eventually talk her into staying at the boarding house (“Anyone Would Do”). Once there, the landlady has a talk with Flick. She is upset that he brought two white people to her all-black establishment. She has a business to consider and doesn't want the word to leak out. In fact, she asks Flick and his friends to use the exit on the alley. He gives her twenty dollars to try to smooth things over. Monty is ready for an evening of drinking and having the time of their lives.

With everyone out of her room, Violet takes off her dress and lies down on the bed in her slip. A hotel singer croons a song as Violet falls asleep ("Who'll Be the One If Not Me?"). Young Vi rises from behind the bed and catches sight of her father. In a fantasy dream sequence, Vi's face is restored and she dances with her father. Then, the Old Lady from the bus dances with her father after swigging down a quick bourbon. The father leaves when Monty comes in and dances with the Old Lady. Finally, he dances with Young Vi and reaches over, picking up Violet's diary, which lies on the nightstand. Young Vi disappears.

Violet awakens and sees Monty reading her book. She takes her book back and asks what Monty is doing hanging around her room (“Last Time I Came to Memphis”). Flick enters, wondering why Monty hasn't told her to get ready. Violet dresses, and the three go out on the town.

The scene shifts to a Memphis Dance Hall, where Violet, Flick and Monty are all out on the dance floor showing off for one another as a music hall singer croons a song ("Lonely Stranger / Anyone Would Do"). Flick goes to buy some sodas. While he is gone, Monty dances closely with Violet and his hands wander a bit. When Flick returns and catches sight of this, he sets down the sodas and storms out. Violet lets go of Monty and rushes after Flick.

Violet catches up with Flick, who is returning to the hotel. He tries to talk with Violet, asking if her scar hurts. He touches her face, but before he can get any closer, the landlady appears and doesn't move until the two go to their separate rooms. Violet climbs into her bed and sleeps. Monty crashes into her room. They kiss, and the lights fade as he joins her on the bed. In a flashback, Billy Dean Elam is following Young Vi home. Vi gets him to confess that people have found out that he is a virgin and have dared him five dollars to have sex with her. She consents and asks him to be gentle. In the present, Monty is telling Violet about his motorcycle. Monty falls asleep on Violet. Flick is standing out on the street, sipping from his flask ("Lay Down Your Head").

Flick, Monty and Violet are aboard the bus as it pulls into Fort Smith, Arkansas. The bus driver announces that this is the last stop for the soldiers. The civilians have ten minutes to use the facilities. Monty wakes up and leaves the bus to buy Violet some candy and soda; he's been buying her snacks all day. Flick stays to say goodbye to Violet. The two exchange addresses. Flick tries to make it clear that Monty thinks she's nothing but "a piece of ass." Flick is jealous; he could have gone back to her room last night before Monty did, but he didn't have the nerve. He's lonely and looking for someone. He hoped that Violet would have been that person, but he was wrong. Violet tells Flick that she is fond of him but she needs to continue her journey ("Hard to Say Goodbye").

Violet goes to the bus bathroom. Monty returns, and Flick asks him to leave her be. Flick doesn't want to hear any of Monty's nonsensical charm-talk, but Monty begs his friend to help him say goodbye to Violet properly. They both hear Violet getting sick in the bathroom; she says that it's from all the candy and soda. They all say goodbye rather awkwardly. Monty begins to walk away but then turns back and asks Violet to come back to meet him at the bus station on the Sunday after her healing. He offers to buy her ticket. Violet doesn't believe one word that he says. No man has ever wanted her for anything other than sex; why should it be any different now ("Promise Me, Violet")? They get off of the bus, and she continues on her journey.

The scene transforms to the Preacher's chapel, where Violet's "savior" is working miracles ("Raise Me Up"). A choir is singing, and everything is just as Violet had hoped it would be. The proceedings suddenly stop when the Preacher becomes angry that one of his lighting specials isn't focused on him. Thinking that Violet is the lighting operator, he screams at her and "fires" her. She tells him that she's come to be healed, and he tells her that the "healing" doesn't happen until the televised show tomorrow. He sends Violet off to deal with his assistant who handles all the scheduling. Violet is taken aback, because this isn't what she expected.

Alone with the preacher's assistant, Virgil, Violet thinks back on how her father carried her down the mountain to the doctor's office to have her face fixed ("Down the Mountain"). As she sees this scene going on in her mind, she shows Virgil all of the slips of paper that explain her need and has all of the Bible verses that must speak for her. Virgil attempts to pray with her, saying that "all suffering has a purpose." Violet rushes off to find the Preacher in his chapel. She confronts him with numerous Bible quotes. In the course of their discussion, Violet realizes that the man in whom she put so much faith is nothing but a fraud. He offers to pray with her, to find inner beauty, but Violet wants desperately to be beautiful on the outside. The Preacher tries to reason with her about what he can and cannot change. Still, she tries to get him to start the healing ceremony ("Raise Me Up – Reprise").

The Preacher tries to leave, but she blocks his way and backs him up against the altar. She cries out to him and the heavens to see just how awful she looks ("Look at Me"). Violet's father has magically taken the place of the Preacher. Both Violet and Young Vi confront this man who disfigured her. Why didn't he check his axe to see if the blade was loose? Why didn't he take Violet to a better doctor, one who could repair her face before it was too late? Did he do it on purpose, so that no one would come near her, and she'd always be around to take care of him?

Her father tells Violet that he did the best that he could do. He wishes that the accident hadn't have happened, but it did. If he could take away the scar, he would. Now it's up to Violet to make the most of what she has ("That's What I Could Do"). She seems to think that her healing has occurred. Violet seems at peace with herself... and with her father. There is a great whirring sound. The miracle of regaining her beautiful face has happened.

The next day, a newly refreshed Violet boards a crowded bus. She is very proud of her new face but she is afraid to touch it until it's settled. She knows that her healing will be complete when she steps off of the bus in Fort Smith. What concerns Violet most of all is that Monty won't know her. If he recognizes her by her old face, she decides that she'll run away.

Monty does meet her at the station. He confirms that her healing is nothing more than an illusion. She dashes off but is stopped by seeing her image in a glass door. Flick is behind the door. Monty tells her that he's volunteered to go to Vietnam and asks her to come to San Francisco with him for a couple of days before he's shipped out. Monty leaves, alone. Violet attempts to get on the bus, but Flick stops her. He tells her how much he loves her and asks her to stay with him. She tries to leave, but he reaches out to caress and kiss her face ("Promise Me Violet"). Violet surrenders to her feelings and stays with Flick ("Bring Me to Light").