‘Side Show’ ready to step into the Playhouse spotlight
By Diana Saenger
The La Jolla Playhouse production of “Side Show,” currently in rehearsal, is among the many highly anticipated shows to play at the theater. In association with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, “Side Show” is directed by Hollywood legend, Academy Award-winning director Bill Condon.
The musical (book and lyrics by Condon) is a re-imagining of Henry Krieger (music) and Bill Russell’s (book and lyrics) original production of “Side Show,” and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast.
The arresting plot is based on the true story of conjoined twin sisters Violet and Daisy Hilton, who had a circus act in the 1930s. Russell said the idea for the show came from Robert Longbottom, who directed and choreographed the original “Side Show” on Broadway in the mid 1990s.
“He pitched me one sentence about it, and then a friend saw a piece on them on TV and said let’s write a musical about them,” Russell said. “I didn’t know anything about them, but the idea of two performers singing, dancing and acting together I thought was inherently theatrical.”
In rehearsal, the cast was very animated. As other side-show entertainers rally around the twins for their birthday, talent scout Terry Connor (Manoel Felciano) and song-and-dance man Buddy Foster (Matthew Hydzik) burst in on the party.
Terry asks about their dreams and tells them they could make it big in vaudeville. “But we’re sideshow exhibits; we can’t perform in shows like that,” one of the twins responds.
But Terry insists, “Every vaudeville show is unusual in some ways.” He tells them they are not freaks, but unique, and then belts out a tune about how connected he is and how signing up with him can change their lives.
That’s about the time Jake (David St. Louis) steps in to warn them by belting out the tune, “The Devil You Know.”
“We worked on the show for about a year, and then I had to do two films (“The Twilight Saga”),” Condon said. “We have almost everyone here from the initial “Side Show,” and we worked closely with The Kennedy Center to get it on its feet.”
Condon won an Academy-Award for his adaptation of “Gods and Monsters,” was nominated for an Oscar for his adapted screenplay “Chicago,” wrote the screenplays and directed “Dream Girls” and “Kinsey,” and directed the recently released “Fifth Estate.”
“Side Show” is Condon’s first play, and he’s singing a happy tune. “Working on movies is so intense, you’re left in a vacuum,” Condon said. “Your days are so filled you can’t keep up with phone calls. This experience has been fantastic; I’ve gotten refueled rather than depleted. Bill, Henry and choreographer Anthony Van Laast (“Mama Mia,” “Sister Act”) make a wonderful team. Anthony is going to England to choreograph the Royal Gala performance for the Queen.”
Van Laast recalled when he first got the request to choreograph “Side Show.”
“I knew these girls had been the highest paid performers in vaudeville, about $4,000 a week,” he said. “I thought if they could do it, we could do it. So my assistant Janet and I, stepped in front of a mirror, strapped ourselves together and started figuring out moves. It was a great time of exploration of movement.”
Condon is especially excited about his stars, Erin Davie (“Grey Gardens”) and Emily Padgett (“Rock of Ages”), who play Violet and Daisy Hilton.
“This was a challenge and a huge, vocal-chord-busting role as big as ‘Evita,’ and then they have to dance,” Condon said. “These actresses are amazing, and they match each other’s profiles and sound good together. If one of them should get a cold or something it would be a needle in a hay stack to replace them.”
Condon said he was bracing himself for tech rehearsal. “It’s a major set with a lot of moving parts, and it will require changes, but I keep asking, ‘when does this stop being fun?’
“There’s a lot of waiting around in movies, but here’s it’s incredibly stimulating all the time. It’s been fun to be scared, and to not know the next step is a little nerve wracking, but I definitely have an appetite for it.”
If you go
What: “Side Show”
When: Matinees, evenings, Nov. 5-Dec. 15
Where: La Jolla Playhouse, Mandell Weiss Theatre, UCSD campus
Tickets: From $15
Phone: (858) 550-1010
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