Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Side Show"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Jennifer Mischley

"Side Show"

Reviewed by Jennifer Mischley

April 28, 2003

Side Show
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Book and Lyric by Bill Russell
Music by Henry Kreiger
Directed by Spiro Veloudos, Producing Artistic Director
Musical Direction by Jonathan Goldberg
Choreography by David Connolly
Runs April 25 - May 31, 2003

“Come look at the freaks!” From the moment the cast sings this first line of the show to the last line of “I Will Never Leave You” the talented cast of Side Show draws you close to the ugly and beautiful dichotomy of the true-life story of Daisy and Violet Hilton. The Lyric Stage Company of Boston, under the direction of Spiro Veloudos, has pulled together a scaled down and extremely intimate production of this short-lived but provocative Broadway musical.

The story opens with the cast staring…and I mean staring…into the eyes of the audience. The strong ensemble delivers a vocally impressive performance and gets the show off to a mildly disturbing but promising start. Each actor starts out dressed in “normal” clothes but the physicality of each person quickly evolves into a different “freak” as their name is called by the boss (Steven Dascoulias). Among the freaks, you’ve got your everyday “geek” (Scott Albert) which we learn is a person who drinks warm chicken blood, a bearded lady (Ellen Peterson), a fat lady (Dana Beil) and of course, the stars of the show the “Siamese Twins.”

First thing you notice is that these “twins” might be joined at the hip but that is about the only thing these two ladies have in common. To be fair, the real Hilton sisters did not look identical. But, unfortunately Daisy (Maryann Zschau) and Violet (Susan Molloy) look absolutely nothing alike…in fact they don’t even look like they’re the same age. But, theatre is all about suspension of disbelief so I’ll move on. Luckily, both women possess beautiful singing voices and their tight harmonies produce some of the most powerful moments of the show.

Despite their appearances, the girls connect on more than just a physical level. Violet, played with such touching sweetness and sincerity by Susan Molloy, will steal your heart. Contrasted by Daisy’s brash and dominating personality, it is a joy to watch these two talented actresses navigate the stage. The most powerful moment of the show is the Act I, “Who Will Love Me as I Am?” Daisy’s strong belty alto voice blends so well with Violet’s crystal clear soprano sound and the number absolutely soars.

Another wonderful duet that is both heart wrenching and fulfilling is when the girls sing “I Will Never Leave You.” As tears stream down Violet’s cheeks and Daisy is there to comfort her sister, the audience no longer pities them but understands their unity. They almost make us forget their affliction and envy their connection. Consider for a moment that in the end, all of us are truly alone. But, Daisy and Violet have each other…they are not alone.

Although Daisy and Violet Hilton were real-life circus performers, Side Show is a fictional account of their rise to fame. The journey begins when the girls are discovered by an aspiring song and dance man who is aptly named Buddy (Peter A. Carey). The good-natured Buddy convinces his smarmy boss, Terry Conner (Christopher Crew) to sign the twins for a contract with the Orpheum circuit. Terry smells the money, takes the bait and the hitches his wagon to their rising star.

Buddy Foster, played aptly by Peter A. Carey, was much older than one would expect the character to be. After all, he’s supposed to be a fresh-faced kid who works as an usher but has big dreams of becoming a star. Contrasted with the younger and ultra slick Terry (Christopher Crew), the paring was a little awkward. However, each actor tackled their roles and both the singing and acting was believable. Terry’s lament in Act II entitled “Private Conversation” was vocally stunning. Also, Buddy’s transformation from the little guy you love to the short guy you end up hating was flawless.

Perhaps the most perfectly cast character was Jake the sideshow “Cannibal King,” played by Brian R. Robinson. This young man was so good, so handsome, so talented that the audience was rooting for his character to “get the girl” from the beginning. “The Devil You Know” in Act I showcases his intense feelings for the twins. His powerful rendition of “You Should Be Loved” in Act II was one of the highlights of the evening.

Any show is only as good as the ensemble and this cast is simply outstanding. The other side show performers include the Snake Lady (Trish Aponte), Fortune Teller (Caroline deLima), Reptile Man (Ben Gettinger), Fakir (Gary Thomas Ng), Harem Girl (Kristen Sargeant) and a couple of Roustabouts (David Costa, Evan Crothers). All of the side show “freaks” also played multiple roles including reporters, vaudevillians, the Follies Company, party guests, radio show singers and hawkers.

The big production numbers like “We Share Everything” and “Rare Songbirds on Display” showcased the multi-talented ensemble’s dance skills. David Connolly’s unique choreography was at times hilarious (i.e. the shovel dance) and deeply sensual as in Terry’s dream with a solo Daisy.

The music is truly the most moving element of Side Show. The production is performed almost entirely in song and the orchestra, superbly directed by Jonathan Goldberg, provided the emotional rhythm to each piece.

The technical aspects of the show also are remarkable. The lighting and sound designers have created a world where circus images and sounds come alive. The “Tunnel of Love” scene is so romantic that you feel like you’re transported onto the ride! The stage crew also is to be commended for their tremendous effort to manipulate an ever-changing set, cleverly designed by Janie E. Howland.

Costume designer, Gail Astrid Buckley, coupled with the wardrobe crew, Shanna Parks and Laura Campas, had their work cut out for them with this daunting production. Every female cast member was fitted with several styled wigs and shoes to perfectly match each outfit. The twins must have had a dozen costume changes is Act I alone!

Director Spiro Veloudos is to be congratulated for his brave production of this challenging musical. After the Sunday press performance, Mr. Veloudos and the cast stayed for a “Talk Back” discussion with the audience. He explained how he was hooked from the opening number and knew that somehow Side Show could work on the Lyric stage. Well, it not only worked, it triumphed in the intimate setting. Bravo!

Review written by Jennifer Mischley

"Side Show" (25 April - 31 May)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON , MA
1(617) 437-7172

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