note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Beverly Creasey
Reviewed by Beverly Creasey
Every once in a while you can catch Tod Browning’s bizarre 1932 film FREAKS on late night TV A cult classic because horror meister Browning enlisted actual circus folk from the side show to play murderous versions of themselves in the movie…And because “Siamese Twins” Violet and Daisy Hilton appear in the film.
Playwright Bill Russell and composer Henry Krieger exploit the latter fact in their oddly touching musical, SIDE SHOW, now up at the Lyric through the end of the month. The twins, or at least one of the two desperately wants to become a movie star. (We now know that the only film they ever made sadly presented them as freaks of nature.)
The authors spare no time hitting you with the musical’s message. The show begins with a sleazy Midway barker offering us the chance to be voyeurs, to witness “God’s mistakes.” Of course we learn that the bearded lady, the wild man of Borneo and the twins are just as human as we are. Director Spiro Veloudos drives the moral home by tenderizing all the characters, with the exception of the cruel barker. (Other angrier productions I’ve seen have painted the sisters’ beaux with a more sinister brush.)
What comes through in Veloudos’ version is the heartache… which is niftily reflected in the ethereal, plaintive sound we hear when the sisters sing. (The show is miked so sound designer Marc Plevinsky can make it echo eerily in emotional songs like Daisy’s fantasy sequence.) Maryann Zschau as the outgoing Daisy and Susan Molloy as the softer Violet have wonderful dramatic voices which match in singing style and volume and their gorgeous matching frocks (by Gail Astrid Buckley) do the trick in our willing suspension of disbelief.
Brian R. Robinson gets the show’s best number, the rousing, raucous “The Devil You Know” (about whether or not to leave the side show for greener pastures) and he gets the dramatic stuffing knocked out of him in the show’s most searing moment. Peter A. Carey is a delight in his vaudeville turn, in the naughty, bawdy “One Plus One Equals Three.” Christopher Chew and Zschau have a romantic ballet choreographed for them by David Connolly (with a delicious dip!) when Daisy separates from Violet in her mind’s eye to embrace her lover. Music director Jonathan Goldberg gets strong singing from everyone, making SIDE SHOW a pleasure to hear as well as contemplate.