Highly Recommended **** Porchlight Music Theatre’s new production, “Side Show”, is a beautiful yet profoundly sad musical based on the lives of conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton. Although “Side Show” – in either version – didn’t do especially well on Broadway, it is well-suited to the more intimate space at Stage 773. I give “Side Show” 4 Spotlights.
The Hilton twins, Daisy (Colleen Fee) and Violet (Brit-Marie Sivertsen), were the ‘stars’ of a ‘freak’ show when a would-be talent scout, Terry Connor (Matthew Keffer) ran across them. He saw the potential – they could be stars in Vaudeville – and he could manage them. He persuaded Buddy Foster (Devin DeSantis), who later married Violet in the Cotton Bowl, to teach them to sing and dance.
By the way, according to playwright/lyricist, Bill Russell, who was in the opening night audience, all of the characters were based on real people except for Jake (Evan Tyrone Martin), whom Sir brought into his Sideshow to watch the twins. All the details of their lives were true, too. They did make a movie called “Freaks”, but in 1932, before the Cotton Bowl wedding in 1936, not after.
When asked why he had the twins flipped, Russell said he used a newspaper photograph of them as his inspiration. When he found out that the negative had been flipped, the lyrics were already written and it all seemed to work with Daisy on the left, Violet on the right as you watch their show.
If you see the show, you will be amazed at how well Fee and Sivertsen stay connected (at the hip) and how much they resemble each other. They were wonderful – vulnerable yet closed off. As Terry presented opportunities for them, they were afraid to hope. Both have beautiful voices which blend together well, but are strong individually, too.
In a flashback, we learned that the twins were born in England. Their mother didn’t want them, so the midwife took them. At some point, Auntie (Amanda Hartley) brought them to the states where she hooked up with Sir (Matthias Austin), who made them the centerpiece of his sideshow in San Antonio, Texas. After Auntie died, he convinced a friendly judge that they were incompetent and was appointed their legal guardian for life.
I think it’s important to mention the other denizens of the Sideshow – without them, the twins would not have shone so brightly. They are: Johnson Brock (The Human Pin Cushion/Ray), Colin Funk (The Dog Boy/Harry Houdini), Veronica Garza (The Fortune Teller), Amanda Hartley (The Bearded Lady/Auntie), Peter Eli Johnson (The Roustabout), Ben Kay (The Geek), Courtney Mack (The Tattoo Girl), John Marshall Jr. (The Three-Legged Man), Deanna Meyers (The Half Man-Half Woman), Kristen Noonan (Venus de Milo), Ben Saylor (The Cossack) and Jeremy Sonkin (The Lizard Man).
It was really interesting to hear Bill Russell talk about the process of writing “Side Show”. He said he found a tattered autobiography of the Hiltons in a junk store and kept their story in the back of his mind for a long time. He started writing “Side Show” in 1998. When the musical was revised, every note and syllable was re-examined, songs were taken out and new songs written. He said he told Porchlight Artistic Director Michael Weber, when he asked if there was a reason for something or other, “Michael, there is a reason for everything!”
Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of “Sideshow” runs through October 25th at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays at 8:00; Saturdays at 4:00 and 8:00; and Sundays at 2:00. Running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with an intermission. Tickets range from $39-$45. Valet parking is available. FYI (773) 327-5252 or www.porchlightmusictheatre.org.
to see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Side Show”