I’ve been a fan of musical theater for as long as I can remember. My first high school job was working concessions at North Shore Music Theatre in Massachusetts, so I could watch the rotating line-up of regional productions during my breaks. Having attended college in Manhattan, trips to score RUSH tickets and enter discounted ticket lotteries were a regular occurrence and a favorite pastime of friends and myself. I’ve been a seatfiller at the TONY Awards, and regularly listen to Original Broadway Cast recordings on my commute to work. Flash forward several years later, and I still find myself as excited as ever to see the new Broadway shows that open each season.
One of the shows I was most looking forward to attending this year was the reimagined revival of “Side Show.” I’d seen a production of the show about a dozen years ago and it remained one of my favorite scores to listen to throughout the years. I couldn’t wait to see how the show had been transformed and brought to Broadway this season after its run at The Kennedy Center.
“Side Show” tells the story of Daisy and Violet Hilton – conjoined twins who were born in 1911 and found their way to vaudeville fame in the 1930s . The twins overcame many obstacles in their childhood – including being sold by their birthmother to make them an attraction. Eventually they petitioned the courts for their independence, and embarked on a journey to find their way in a world where they were different, and considered by many to be “freaks.”
Broadway’s “Side Show” gives the audience a background about the sisters’ childhood, and follows them as they break out of the side show circuit and become vaudeville stars, while wanting to pursue a career in Hollywood films.
This production of “Side Show” is directed by Academy Award-winner Bill Condon (Twilight), and sets the stage in a visually-appealing set that draws us into the world of the Hiltons. We begin in an eerie, beaten-down touring side show tent in San Antonio. Viewers get the sense that the performers in the side show are not living under the best of conditions, especially as the show is set during The Great Depression. We are introduced to the other side show acts in a the opening song “Come Look at the Freaks,” sung by Sir (Robert Joy), the Hiltons’ guardian and side show emcee. We were beyond impressed with the masks and costumes used to make the performers appear as if they were side show acts – such as the Lizard Man, and Dog Boy.
During a side show performance, the girls are discovered by Terry Connor (played by Ryan Silverman), an agent trying to break his way back into the Orpheum theater circuit – and self-proclaimed song and dance man Buddy Foster (Matthew Hydzik). They see the success the twins can have in vaudeville, which would lead to success of their own and teach them how to create an act that would wow the audiences of vaudeville.
The plan succeeds, and the twins tour the country with vaudeville acts created by Terry and Buddy, and become a media sensation. As their fame and recognition grows, they are confronted with challenges such as deciding whether to take part in a risky separation surgery, and how to deal with their love lives and different wants and needs.
While the road for the Hilton sisters was filled with obstacles and elements of this show can be rather dark, what truly shines through and uplifts the audience is the bond that these sisters share – both mental and physical – that gives them strength to deal with life’s challenges together. The ballad “I Will Never Leave You” allows Padgett and Davie to show their vocal strength and prowess, while engaging the audience to further understand their true love and mutual support of one another.
Throughout scenes in the show, you can see how relatable many of the issues the Hiltons are going through are with others. During the song Who Will Love Me As I Am?” where the Hiltons are pondering who could love a Siamese twin, the stage lights to show the side show “freaks” asking the same question. The show also touches upon how people at the time did not fit in with social acceptance based on race and sexual orientation. We realize that we can all relate to these basic needs for wanting those around us to love us for who we are.
We left the show humming the memorable score, with book and lyrics written by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger.
Standout performances include that of David St. Louis as Jake, who was hired to protect the twins both in the side show and on the vaudeville circuit. St. Louis’ velvet voice mesmerized the crowd as he sang the emotional “You Should Be Loved” and got us all wondering about the Hiltons’ fate during “The Devil You Don’t.”
We also loved Matthew Hydzik as Buddy Foster, whose dedication to character held our attention whether he was at center stage or in an ensemble scene.
The staging of the corny vaudeville numbers such as “Stuck With You” (where the girls are stuck to their beaus because of their Father’s glue factory) and “One Plus One Equals Three” (showing how life would be if the twins were married) made us laugh, smile, and tap our toes.
It goes without saying that Padgett and Davie were sympatico throughout the performance, and impressed us with their synchronized movements, as well as the different personality elements they brought to each twin to show their individuality.
“Side Show” shows us how we can all be strong in the face of adversity, and how the bond a family shares is much more than skin-deep.