Review: Side Show
Image: Pint of Wine Theatre Company
Violet Hilton - Lauren Edwards
Daisy Hilton - Katie Beudert
Terry Connor - Matthew James Nicholas
Buddy Foster - Barry O'Reilly
Jake - Alexander Bellinfantie
Hannah Parker Smith
Based on the true story of Siamese twins Violet and Daisy Hilton who became stars during the Depression, Side Show is a moving portrait of two women joined at the hip whose extraordinary bondage brings them fame but denies them love.
With book and lyrics by Bill Russell (Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens) and music by Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls), Side Show follows their progression from England to America, around the vaudeville circuit and to Hollywood on the eve of their appearance in the 1932 movie Freaks.
This amateur production of Side Show (2014 Broadway Revival) is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Ltd.
Sometimes with a musical it's possible, after hearing only the first few bars, to recognise that the score has something special about it.
That's certainly the case here with Side Show and Henry Krieger's complex and captivating score that has the ability to instantly grab your attention and, during the rest of the show, to frequently send tingles down one's spine.
Based on the score alone, this musical deserves recommendation, and that's given extra urgency since the show is not so regularly produced.
Side Show gives us a glimpse into the lives of conjoined twins, Violet and Daisy Hilton, born in England but who became famous on the American vaudeville, burlesque and sideshow circuits during the 1920s and 30s.
This pair are not the ones who gave the common name to twins who are joined together before birth and born in that condition.
The original 'Siamese twins' were actually Chang and Eng Bunker who became famous in the USA in the previous century for similar reasons as the Hiltons.
In this description of just a short period of the lives of Daisy and Violet, we discover them first in a touring show run by a rather dastardly and exploitative showman known to his acts as 'Sir'.
But when talent scout Terry Connor and aspiring musician Buddy Foster fetch up for a private view of the twins, they readily see their own chance to whisk the girls off to a glittering - and profitable - future.
Dom O'Hanlon's production is a substantial undertaking that has the air of an endeavour with the invisible hand of a meticulous and determined creative force behind it.
And that results in impressive work in many departments.
The long, narrow configuration of the CLF Theatre is converted here into a circus-like venue with the kind of stripy two-tone colouring adorning the walls and ceiling that still says quite readily: 'circus'.
Mr O'Hanlon makes good use of the ample space to vary the locations of the scenes and that's further enhanced by the use of two mobile seating banks which also allow for different levels in the action too.
Lemington Ridley's costumes are beautifully crafted and, in some cases, rather stunning, giving ample description of both the times and special moments such as a New Year's Eve party.
Musical director, John Reddel, overseas a fine and substantial orchestra that ably supports the vocals without drowning them out, and is essential to do justice to Henry Krieger's compositions.
Lauren Edwards and Katie Beudert have a tough challenge on their hands as the twins.
First, they need to stick together (quite literally) like glue for the duration and they also need to show that their characters too are pretty-well identical.
They manage to pull off those requirements with charming aplomb and their physical characteristics are also well-matched.
And their singing is delightful, with the exception of one song where their collective volume sounded more like shouting - though that might have easily been a glitch with the amplification.
The company singing is stirring and invigorating, and the entire cast demonstrate oodles of confidence, energy, enthusiasm and talent, and the overall effect is of a production that has been carefully planned and crafted by a skilled creative team.
Like a number of shows I've seen recently (indicating something of a trend, perhaps) the show is bookended with the cast sitting on the mobile benches behind a translucent screen.
Though the technique isn't novel, it's apt enough here since it echoes the twins' journey we witness and, with the cast sitting together on the benches, we get the discomforting experience of people staring at us, like audiences gawping at the twins in the side show.
Bill Russell's book is certainly not on the same level of authoritative inventiveness as Henry Krieger's music, since it offers little more in terms of the storyline than what we might have predicted.
It's sufficient though to carry the songs which are the real stars of the show, and Dom O'Hanlon's well-crafted, thoughtful production, though not without minor flaws, nevertheless provides the vehicle for an enjoyable and entertaining evening.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for CLF Theatre
Our show listing for Side Show
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