Let’s Review! Side Show cast deserves the center stage at La Jolla Playhouse
By Diana Saenger
What is a freak? That’s the question permeating the La Jolla Playhouse production of the musical “Side Show.” The plot is framed around the true-life story of conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton, who were born in England in 1908. They became instant sideshow attractions, earning their barmaid mother a living until she died and they became the property of a family who booked them into American vaudeville.
“Side Show” became a script idea for Bill Russell (book and lyrics) and Henry Krieger (music) in the 1990s, and it played on Broadway. The Playhouse production is a reimagining of the show with additional book material and direction by Academy Award-winning director Bill Condon. It was produced in association with The John F. Kennedy Center.
The ornate, gold stage-frame in the Mandell Weiss Theatre instantly transports you to the early 1930s where Daisy and Violet are the lead stars in a small sideshow, which is set up with a wonderfully imaginative set. The sideshow is run by Sir (Robert Joy), who beckons those who like the absurd to spend a few cents to see the girls, a three-legged man (Brandon Bieber), dog boy (Javier Ignacio), fortune teller (Keala Settle) and other oddities, rarely seen in public.
What Sir does not expect are two handsome, fast-talking guys who want to steal the girls away. Song-and-dance man Buddy Foster (Matthew Hydzik) and talent scout Terry Connor (Manoel Felciano) put up a good fight to lure Daisy and Violet away from the sideshow, where Buddy and Terry promise to make them lots of money and fame in vaudeville.
The cast delivers a fun songfest with some of the “freaks” encouraging the twins to flee the penny-pinching Sir, while others warn them it’s a scheme, and to stay with the sideshow. David St. Louis (Broadway’s “Jesus Christ Superstar”) plays Jake, the girls’ best friend, and belts out the song, “The Devil You Know,” in magnificent voice. He gets a rousing round of whistles and applause after every song he sings.
Daisy and Violet have never been courted, so when Buddy and Terry flirt and make them promises, the girls are swayed to leave the sideshow. Buddy and Terry turn the girls into red-hot, sexy performers who could each stand on her own, if not attached to the other. However, Sir has a few tricks up his sleeve, which sends them all to court to see who has legal custody of the girls.
Condon’s direction is terrific. Each cast member can really sing, including Erin Davie (Broadway’s “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”) as Violet and Emily Padgett (Broadway’s “Rock of Ages”) as Daisy.
The biggest allure of this show is to see how the two actresses carry off the roles of conjoined twins. Thanks to the excellent choreography by Anthony Van Laast every step is in sync, aided by the excellent costumes from Paul Tazewell.
“Side Show” is a production that not only entertains, but offers a peek and poke at the past, delicately and delightfully.
If you go
What: “Side Show”
When: Matinees, evenings to Dec. 15
Where: La Jolla Playhouse, Mandell Weiss Theatre, UCSD campus
Tickets: From $15
Box Office:B(858) 550-1010
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