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A CurtainUp Review
Side Show

Whatever you are, don't you want to be normal?— Guest at New Year's Eve party
Whoever you are — don't you?—Violet

Like a clown whose tears cause laughter trapped behind a painted mask— Daisy
Even seeing smiling faces I still feel I have to ask— Violet
. . .Who will be part of my circus? Who will love me as I am?
— Daisy and Violet in one of Side Show's breakout anthem songs.
Side Show
Emily Padgett and Erin Davie (Photo:Joan Marcus)
This exhilarating new version of Side Show, the much lauded but commercially disastrous 1997 musical, starts out asking you to "come look at the freaks." But while that opening brings a mind-blowing array of Nature's oddities on stage, there's nothing freakish about the Hilton Sisters in this something new/something old show — at least nothing you can see. Erin Davie and Emily Padgett are as pretty as they are talented. In their array of Paul Tazewell's gorgeous, identical costumes and Charles G. LaPointe's flattering and era defining, also identical, hairdos, the adjective that suits them is "glamorous" rather than freakish.

To cut right to the chase for those who read reviews mainly to decide whether or not to buy a ticket: This is the best new take on a musical that failed initially that you're likely to see in a while

The story still relies on our fascination with freaks of nature but the conjoined Hilton Sisters' rise to stardom has been beautifully and believably re-conceived by Director Bill Condon and librettist/lyricist Bill Russell. Composer Henry Krieger has come up with a whole bunch of catchy new songs. While that meant some of the original songs had to go, the show's big ballads, "Who Will Love Me As I Am?"and "I Will Never Leave You" are still thrillingly present. Though Daisy and Violet remain literally joined at the hip, there's nothing all that weird and hard to identify with about the emotional connection that helps them to triumph over repeated disappointments.

The two men who made them stars and loved them (but not enough to make that plaintive wish to be loves "as I am" come true) are more fully and understandably realized. Though Buddy's need to hide his true sexual nature has gone the way of the sordid Side Show life in which the Hilton twins grew up, he symbolizes all manner of secrets that can haunt any of us.

Not to downplay the excellent performances of the original Daisy and Violet (Emily Skinner & Alice Ripley), Emily Padgett and Erin Davie are right on the money in every respect. Dressed, made up and coiffed to twin-like perfection they actually look alike, even as they convey their personality differences. The flawless synchronization of their unfortunate, too close for normalcy connection is a marvel to behold — especially when they dance to Anthony Van Laast's snazzily choreographed numbers like "Ready to Play."

It's easy to see why romance starved Daisy and Violet fall in love with the fellows who rescue them from their Cinderella like freak show existence. Ryan Silverman's Terry Connor and Matthew Hydzik's Buddy Foster are pitch-perfect as the well-intentioned opportunists. They're also terrific song and dance men.

More standout performances are delivered by the other two men in the twins' lives. David St. Louis is fine as Jake, the girls' protector and the man who truly loves Violet. His soaring baritone makes Jake's "You Should Be Loved" a heart-wrenching show stopper. When the time comes for Norm Lewis, who played Jake in 1997, leaves his current star turn in The Phantom of the Opera, someone is sure to think of St. Louis.

Actually there's another man, the famous Harry Houdini, who briefly but importantly influences the sisters with advice on how to achieve privacy through self-hypnosis. Javier Ignacio, who also doubles as the one of the freaks, Dog Boy, adds yet another gorgeous male solo voice with his "All In The Mind."
Side Show
The Cast (Photo:Joan Marcus)
As for show's villain, the owner of the Side Show and it's star attraction, Cinderella's wicked stepmother has nothing on Robert Joy's Sir. Joy was busy playing a blocked writer in an Off-Off-Broadway revival of June Moon back in 1997 but happily he was available to strut his stuff as the smarmy meanie who gets the show of to an eye-popping start with "Come Look at the Freaks."

That opening number insures that the more psychologically solid book hasn't forfeited the show's, dark circus-y flavor. That scaffolded opener is just one of David Rockwell's eye-popping stage pictures, all made more vivid by lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Costumer Tazewell also double-dazzles with his costumes for the assorted freaks. The second act's opening number is yet another dazzler — its witty "Stuck With You" and "Leave Me Alone" reminiscent of, even if not quite on a par with, the Loveland episode in Follies.

The St. James is a large house but happily, the Side Show Orchestra and Harold Wheeler's orchestrations do full justice to the subtleties and sophistication of the score. And you can actually hear Bill Russell's smart lyrics.

Broadway can now boast three splendid musical revivals ( Cabaret ). Musical theater pros may not make them like they used to, but they sure know how to turn something old into something newly invigorating.

Side Show
Music by Henry Krieger, book and lyrics by Bill Russell, additional book material by Bill Condon
Directed by Bill Condon
Cast: Erin Davie and Emily Padgett as Violet and Daisy Hilton. Matthew Hydzik as Buddy Foster, Robert Joy as Sir, Ryan Silverman as Terry Connor, and David St. Louis as Jake. The ensemble of side show characters will include Brandon Bieber as the 3 Legged Man, Matthew Patrick Davis as the Geek, Charity Angel Dawson as the Fortune Teller, Lauren Elder as the Venus di Milo, Javier Ignacio as the Dog Boy, Jordanna James as the World's Tiniest Woman, Kelvin Moon Loh as the Half-Man Half-Woman, Barrett Martin as the Human Pin Cushion, Don Richard as the Reptile Man, Blair Ross as the Bearded Lady, Hannah Shankman as the Tattoo Girl, Josh Walker as the World's Tiniest Man; also Con O'Shea-Creal, Derek Hanson, and DeLaney Westfall.
Set design: David Rockwell
Costume design: Paul Tazewell
Sound design: Peter Hylenski
Hair and wig design: Charles LaPointe
Musical direction and arrangements: Sam Davis
Orchestrations: Harold Wheeler
Choreography: Anthony Van Laast.
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, includes intermission
St. James Theatre 246 West 44th Street
From 10/28/14; opening 11/17/14; closing 1/04/15
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 11/14/14 press preview.
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Come Look at the Freaks
  • Like Everyone Else
  • Very Well Connected
  • The Devil You Know
  • Typical Girls Next Door
  • You Should Thank Me Every Day
  • Cut Them Apart
  • I Will Never Leave You
  • All in the Mind
  • Come See a New Land
  • Feelings You've Got To Hide
  • Say Goodbye to the Sideshow
  • Ready to Play
  • The Interview
  • Buddy Kissed Me
  • Who Will Love Me As I Am?
Act Two
  • Stuck With You
  • Leave Me Alone
  • New Year's Eve
  • Private Conversation
  • One Plus One Equals Three
  • You Should Be Loved
  • A Great Wedding Show
  • Marry Me, Terry
  • I Will Never Leave You (Reprise)
  • Come Look at the Freaks (Reprise)
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