The reimagined production of the musical, “Side Show,” currently playing at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, is as close to perfection as a play can come. A dramatic story beautifully sung and acted by every single cast member, “Side Show” is a stunning piece of work. This new production (in association with the La Jolla Playhouse), adds depth with fresh material to the 1997 Broadway musical, and is directed by Oscar-winner Bill Condon,with music by Henry Krieger, book and lyrics by Bill Russell and additional book material by Condon.
“Side Show” is based on the real-life story of Daisy and Violet Hilton,conjoined twins born in early 20th century England. Abandoned by their mother at birth, they were put up for adoption and raised by a woman who put them on display, charging money to see them. When the twins were young, the woman married a circus side-show manager who made them the featured act in his show. He treated them horribly, considering the two to be his personal property. While on tour in the U.S., the girls finally gained the where-with-all to sue for their freedom and won their suit. They were now able to make their own choices. But would they really ever be free and just what would their future hold? In dramatically entertaining fashion, “Side Show” gives us the before and after story of that freedom.
“Side Show” takes on the freak aspect of the girls’ lives head on with a terrific opening number, “Come Look at the Freaks” (although these days, a tattooed woman is not all that freakish). We are introduced to each member of the show by circus owner, Sir (Robert Joy), with standout performances from each cast member. We then meet the twins, Daisy and Violet (Emily Padgett and Erin Davie). The two look amazingly alike, but they have very different personalities. Daisy is an extrovert who likes fame and attention, while Violet is more introverted and wants a husband and home. But what they both desire more than anything else is to be treated, as they tell us in song, “Like Everyone Else.”
Daisy’s and Violet’s freak show existence is given a huge jolt in Texas when smooth-talking talent agent, Terry (Ryan Silverman), and vocal and dance coach, Buddy (Matthew Hydzik), visit the show. Under their tutelage the twins grow more confident and when Terry encourages them to sue for their freedom and leave the show for the Orpheum Circuit, they do just that. It is a hard break because the circus cast has become their family. But with loyal friend, Jake (David St. Louis), leaving with them, the separation is made easier and their hopes are high as they begin their tour. But will they get the lives they imagined? Will they be happier? Who’s to say.
Emily Padgett and Erin Davie are equally fantastic. Their singing—either in unison or apart—is absolutely beautiful. Through their voices we really understand the highs and lows of the twins’ lives. How these two actresses manage to sing, dance and act so closely together every day is unimaginable. Theirs is a spectacular performance.
With the twins’ closing song of the first act, “Who Will Love Me As I Am,” you might think nothing could top that performance. Then the second act begins. Shortly thereafter Ryan Silverman’s Terry takes center stage, ruminating over his conflicting feelings for Daisy with a “A Private Conversation.” His voice fills the theatre in show-stopping theatre magic. Just when you’ve begun to recover emotionally and wonder if “Side Show” can possibly soar any higher, David St. Louis’ Jake comes forward to profess his love for one of the sisters in “You Should Be Loved.” It’s another heart-stopping moment of song.
In addition to the acting, singing and dancing, the costumes are also spectacular. The sisters wear gorgeous dresses throughout, and the costumes and makeup for the other characters are equally impressive.
“Side Show” is not a happy, go-lucky musical, but musical theatre in the very best sense of the words. It’s theatre you won’t soon forget.
“Side Show” runs through July 13.