A reimagined story
The original “Side Show” had a 1997 Broadway debut. Although its Broadway run was short-lived with only 91 performances because the its content was deemed too obscene for general audiences, it earned four Tony nominations and developed a small cult following. It is now playing at the La Jolla Playhouse and hoping to make its way back to Broadway.
The original composers, Henry Krieger on music and Bill Russell on lyrics, worked in full cooperation with new director Bill Condon to re-imagine the already well-received production. Condon, a film director and Oscar winning screenwriter for films like “Dreamgirls” and “Chicago,” had never directed a theatre production before this attempt. He contends that 60% of the material in his version of “Side Show” is new compared to the original musical, yet it is not meant as an improvement, only a reimagining.
Based on a true story
“Side Show” is based on the real lives of the Hilton sisters Daisy and Violet, born in England in 1908 as twins connected at the hip. They were immediately sold into show business. Throughout the 1930s, they performed in circus acts and later in vaudeville shows. Their childhood hardships are portrayed in a on-stage flashback while the rest the play is devoted to the twins’ attempts at romantic love and acceptance of themselves.
The true story of the conjoined sisters is an incredible one. For those interested in the entire history of these fascinating twins, there is a book by Dean Jensen called “The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton: A True Story of Conjoined Twins.”
The show puts the audience in the middle of the freak show. The abusive stepfather introduces the “freaks” from his circus act with his daughters Daisy and Violet as the main event. Many of the smaller characters, like the fortune teller and Jake, are powerful voices. A couple of movie producers, Terry and Buddy, become interested in the sisters, for business and possibly love, and so the play unfolds into a messy entanglement of hope, dreams and reality. The sisters, played by Erin Davie and Emily Padgett truly are the main event. They are spectacular with their blend angelic voices and carefully choreographed dances.
The play ends, just before the twins go off to Hollywood to appear in the 1932 movie “Freaks” (in 1951, the twins also appear in the film “Chained for Life”).
In a Union-Tribune interview, Davie, the actress playing Violet Hilton, concluded “we are all freaks in some way. On the outside or on the inside, we all have something that makes us feel like a freak.” The play cries out for human acceptance by pulling at the heartstrings of its audience in every musical number.
“Side Show” runs at Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Theatre through December 15th.