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Side Show

Mediocre show, brilliant performance

By Seth Bisen-Hersh

Boston Conservatory

Book & Lyrics by Bill Russell

Music by Henry Krieger

In this day and age, it is nearly impossible to get a show to Broadway. And once there, it is even harder to get it to stay there. Last year, a handful of good shows made it to Broadway only to close shortly afterwards. Among them, Side Show set up its tent at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City on October 16, 1997 and closed on January 3, 1998 after only 31 preview performances and 91 regular performances. One of the main reasons it closed was Ragtime, The Lion King and Cabaret. As can be seen from the fact that those three shows dominated the Tony Awards, they overshadowed many smaller productions. And frankly, compared to them, Side Show sort of becomes the step to the side show.

This “freakish” musical was inspired by the real lives of Siamese twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton who were vaudeville stars during the Great Depression and also appeared in the films Freaks and Chained For Life. Opening at a freak show, the plot revolves around the twins and two guys, Buddy and Terry, who discover them and want to make them famous. Throughout the course of the show, there are many twists and turns. It is apparent from the start that Buddy starts to have a thing for Violet while Daisy develops a crush on Terry. However, since the twins are joined at the hip, privacy soon becomes an issue. By the end of Act One, the twins have become an “overnight sensation” and as Act Two begins, Buddy proposes to Violet and then he too becomes famous. There is a fabulously written song, “One Plus One Equals Three” which deals with the fact that Buddy has his fiancÉe forever and also consequently has her sister. As the show ends, however, neither guy can deal with the fact that they can never have one girl without the other, and the twins realize their dreams may never happen, but at least they always have each other.

There are a few problems with the show itself. The lyrics tend to be on the predictable, even somewhat cheesy side. For instance, I was very able to complete the phrases most of time, which proves their mundanity. I mean, how many other rhymes are there for life besides strife, knife and wife? The music, adequate yet nothing special, was written by Henry Krieger who’s most successful Broadway musical was Dreamgirls. Written in the operatic style, there is little dialogue. Most of the songs are pretty good, dramatic in the right parts and modulating passionately, however, the filler lines needed work. In fact, sometimes it would have been better to just speak the lines rather than sing them. However, besides those internal problems, the story is believable and quite well told.

Boston Conservatory took this mediocre show and did a brilliant job. First of all, the Emerson Majestic Theatre is amazing. The staging and choreography were magnificent. Opening with four rows of empty steps, each character entered one at a time and created a tableau. This same tableau also ended the show at which time it was apparent why they were set up the way they were. The set consisted of many pieces which were rolled around on wheels. This enabled the same few pieces to create many different scenes. The only downside of this was the many different colors of spiked tape which were visible on the stage. The lighting was also great. There were quite a few double spotlight effects which truly highlighted moments in the show. Furthermore, the costumes were well done. On a non-technical aspect, every single person in the show was very good. The most impressive performers were definitely Violet Hilton (Lauren Kling) and Buddy Foster (Chad Kimball). Overall, I would recommend anyone looking for a fairly well written musical to catch Side Show if it ever is in town again.