Saturday, November 29, 2014

A New Side Show Has Much to Offer

Back in 1997 I fell in love with a new musical from the creators of Dreamgirls. Side Show was one of the musicals that developed a cult following in the three months it lasted on Broadway with people loving Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner's Tony nominated performances as the real life Hilton sisters. I bought the CD and listened to it over and over. But as quickly as it arrived, it left New York with many believing Broadway audiences were not ready to embrace a musical about conjoined twins. All of these years later, it is back. And more than a revival, it is a revisal as so much has been rewritten and removed. Director Bill Condon has added new book material to what Bill Russell and Henry Krieger originally had. He has also rethought the work as a director and has given us a grittier look into the world of carnival side shows.

I will admit that I went into this production expecting to not like all of the changes that I've heard about. I was worried I wouldn't enjoy it as much as before. Wow - wrong. Erin Davie (Violet) and Emily Padgett (Daisy) are wonderful as the sisters who want so much more in life. One to be seen as normal and settle down in marriage and the other seeking fame and fortune. The two are believable as twins onstage and yet carry their own personalities to show a uniqueness while strongly connected. Davie plays vulnerable and fragile so well that Padgett's sassy over-protective sister is a layer that
The Hilton Sisters
keeps her own sensitivities well hidden. The two sound amazing both alone and together. Their soaring ballads are very different from what we all came to know from the original cast album, and yet I was moved to tears in their Act II number (thanks in part to a certain direction from Mr. Condon). 

I think Condon's decision to make 'the freaks' truly deformed and different (with amazing makeup and costumes) allows us as an audience to be more sympathetic to the plight of everyone on stage. The 1997 production was met by laughter from the audience because of the twins joined at the hip, but in this new production we see such diversity on that stage - laughter is not an option. We feel the pain and sadness of each person doing what they must in the family they have created. We now get a backstory to the twins life and we internally cheer for them to succeed. Either in love, career, or life. And all of those themes are addressed in this show.

I actually believe the book changes (as well as some of the dropped songs) really help
propel the story and pull us in as an audience. For anyone that has ever felt like an outsider or been thought of to be different, Side Show shows us examples of each of those people from the obvious (the sisters) to some that hit closer to home (Jake: racism, Terry: career changes, Buddy: sexual identity). David St. Louis, Ryan Silverman and Matthew Hydzik all three give wonderful performances as the men in the twins life.

Side Show touches on many themes, but while it is set during a period of yesteryear when people would gawk at those less fortunate - we really haven't changed that much as a society when reality TV and social media allow people to constantly point, stare and comment on the lives of others. Or if Daisy Hilton were alive today, she'd probably be running her own youtube channel to chase her fame and fortune in whatever way she could. Don't miss out on a truly moving and wondering evening of theater. Get to the St. James Theatre to see this one!

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