This new production of the 1997 cult musical SIDE SHOW is more than a revival. It is more than a make-over. It has had radical surgery – not altogether a good thing. The original opened and quickly closed. I saw it three times. Before I received press seats for reviewing such shows.
I thought it was brilliant and moving, visually stunning, amusing and dark with a great score by Henry Krieger and Bill Russell who also wrote the book. It was imaginatively directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom and was one of the best cast shows ever.
Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley were the Hilton sisters – joined at the hip but with individual wants and personalities. Daisy and Violet respectively. Unique freaks. It is almost impossible to erase from my mind their mesmerizing performances. I tried. But failed.
In this newly mounted reimagined SIDE SHOW at the too large St. James Theatre – too much tinkering has been brought on board by director Bill Condon who has supplied “additional book material.” The result is a cut and paste job that blurs what was so original and touching and so very well constructed. But you will not be paying to see the original, so I will attempt to give you a glimpse into this depressing rather than uplifting, drab looking, melodramatic rendition where Cabaret, Pippin, Phantom and Las Vegas rear their over exposed heads. Houdini (Javier Ignacio) also appears with a beautifully sung new song that is supposed to be a self-help ditty “All in the Mind.”
The less said about the choreography by Anthony Van Laast the better. Ditto for the costumes by Paul Tazewell and scenic design by David Rockwell.
Emily Padgett and Erin Davie are the new waif-like Daisy and Violet. They are different. Their similar voices blend beautifully and they deliver mightily their two soaring anthems “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” and “I Will Never Leave You” – that makes an ill-advised cameo appearance in Act I – diluting its impact when it is sorely needed as their “eleven o’clock” show stopping number in the second act.
Most of Daisy’s self-deprecating, sarcastic humor has gone missing and Violet seems stronger in her desire to quit the business and be wed and live happily ever after to Buddy – (Matthew Hydzik) a song and dance man (with gay inclinations) brought on board by impresario Terry Connor (Ryan Silverman) who discovers them in a run-down freak show in Texas, signs them up, readies them for Vaudeville and makes them stars. Both men have excellent voices.
The biggest hurdle is that we don’t particularly like or care about them as they are exploiting Daisy and Violet for their own means.
Jake (an excellent David St. Louis) befriends both girls and is truly in love with Violet but she doesn’t believe that marrying a black guy would work for her – even though he has protected them and stood by them through thick and thin and delivers “The Devil You Know” and “You Should Be Loved” magnificently.
There is a new too long flashback scene that doesn’t help or illuminate and takes up time that should have been put to better use – like revive the original intact.
This new SIDE SHOW has its ups and lots of downs. It has some wonderful performances. But it does not flow as it should and once did. Memories die hard. Luckily I have the original CD with libretto and photos included. It’s still available.
Photos: Joan Marcus
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