Book and Lyric by Bill Russell
Music by Harry Krieger
Directed and Choreographed by Earl D. Weaver
Starring Catie Pires-Fernandes, Deirdre Manning, and Joshian Morales
Theatre UCF, Orlando FL
Loved the cast, loved the set, loved the direction, hated the music. “Side Show” is a partly fictional retelling of the Hilton Sister’s story, they were one of the few co-joined twins born to survive to adulthood, and they spent their lives in show business. Daisy (Pires-Fernandes) wanted fame and fortune, Violet (Manning) wanted love and their ticket out of the carnie was the slick talent agent Terry (Morales) and his vocal coach sidekick Buddy (John DeLisa). The boys find the twins working a Ten- in-One with the Snake Lady and The Lizard Man and the Dog Boy and a flock of other colorful characters. The evil Boss (Justin Mousseau) isn’t eager for the twins to leave his control, but Buddy teaches them to sing. That and their deformity sells them to an America seeking sensationalized novelty, they were the Reality TV of the 1930’s with Terry their emcee. His combination of slick marketing and their basic talent made them the toast of fading vaudeville, and a controversial wedding at the Texas Centennial gets them movie gig with Todd Browning for his creep “Freaks.”
Tonight’s set is beautiful miniature circus ring with bleacher seats that place you in the side show tent. The twins made a believable pair, although sometimes their hips slipped a bit. The most impressive performance came from the girl’s only real friend Jake (Shonn McCloud). He led the ensemble with a rip roaring “The Devil You Know” and his was the voice I’ll remember. Both Terry and Buddy seemed too nice to be show promoters, but their reluctant romances seemed real enough. There were several stunning dance numbers (“We Share Everything” and “Rare Song Birds on Display”), Earl Weaver’s choreography was clever and snappy and the dances recalled some of Busby Berkley’s best excesses.
The plot held up until the last scene, that’s when Violet’s frantic flip flopping on who she would or wouldn’t marry stopped making sense; thankfully Mr. Brown saved the scene by announcing “Heck, I’ll marry you myself for this publicity.” Then there was the music. While a few songs stood out, most of the listed songs are a noodling underscore to what would have made much better spoken dialog. Strip that away and the “real” songs would have popped: “Tunnel of Love” and “Private Conversations” and “Feeling You’ve got to Hide” all are well crafted, but lost in the aural clutter.
Despite these flaws, it’s a performance worth catching; the Hilton Sister’s story is a classic show business tragedy. They were exploited by nearly everyone that touched them, and the conflicting searches for love and fame form a solid base for drama. And then there’s that wonderfully sordid subtext: How, exactly, does one handle wedding night etiquette with Siamese twins? It must be embarrassing for at least someone.
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