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Side Show. St. James Theatre (see Broadway). Book and lyrics by Bill Russell. Music by Henry Krieger. Directed by Bill Condon. With Erin Davie, Emily Padgett. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
Side Show: In brief
A cult favorite when it premiered in 1997, this unlikely musical about vaudeville's famous Hilton sisters—conjoined twins Daisy and Violet—couldn't find a broad audience. This time, film director Bill Condon hopes to make the quirky tuner a hit. The music is by Henry Kreiger (Dreamgirls), and the book and lyrics are by Bill Russell.
Side Show: Theater review by Adam Feldman
When Side Show opened in 1997 for a brief Broadway run, the American musical was in crisis and the show seemed, to some, like a lifeline. If period-Americana tuners about unusual women in conformist worlds were your ball game, then here was a real double-header: the story of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who starred on the midway and vaudeville circuits during the Depression. At the time, many people seemed determined to think that Side Show was better than it was; and now, in Bill Condon’s darkly sumptuous revival, it really is better than it was. The musical has been extensively rewritten, with many new songs, richer side characters and a clearer let-your-Freaks-flag-fly message. Emily Padgett (as the stardom-eyed Daisy) and Erin Davie (as the shrinking Violet) work marvelously together, achieving both the requisite synchronicity and the trickier discreteness of personality. Ryan Silverman, Matthew Hydzik and the iron-voiced David St. Louis are impressive as their side men, and some scenes are genuinely moving.
But while this sincere and stylishly designed production is perhaps the best that Side Show can be, that best, alas, isn’t great. Bill Russell’s lyrics—the leaden rhymes drilled into Henry Krieger’s tunes, the corny banalities of the declarative songs—continually jostle the musical into kitsch. “I will never leave you,” sing the inseparable sisters in the show’s most famous song. But although their vehicle has been tuned up, I don’t expect them to stay for long.—Theater review by Adam Feldman
THE BOTTOM LINE A first-rate production of a second-rate show.
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam