Also see John's review of Other Desert Cities
Side Show is based on the lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton, a circus act of conjoined twins who became famous stage performers in the 1930s. The Hilton sisters were born in Brighton, Sussex, England, on February 5, 1908, joined by their hips and buttocks. Though they shared blood circulation and were fused at the pelvis, they shared no major organs. Taught to sing and dance from an early age, the girls went on to tour the U.S. in the vaudeville and sideshow circuit, and appeared in the 1932 movie Freaks.
The pretty and talented Kaela Antolino and Courtney Poston are wonderful as Daisy and Violet. The two girls look enough alike to plausibly actually be twins, and the illusion is tweaked with the assistance of make-up, costuming and wigs. Rick Peña has done an especially nice job on Daisy and Violet's costumes. Antolino and Poston both express enough personality in their performances to individually define their characters and their regard for one another. They also adapt smoothly to walking and moving about the stage as one. Their vocal blend is excellent for most of the show, with their riveting act one song "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" being the show stopping number of the evening.
Matthew Korinko (Terry) has comfortable maturity in his acting. He and Rick Peña (as Buddy) play well off of each other, though we never see any depth to their friendship. They seem to be different sides of the same coin as each ponders the implications of falling in love with one of the twins.
Connor Walton's somewhat creepy take on the seedy character The Boss sets the tone of the show from the beginning with the song "Come Look at the Freaks." Right or wrong, the sentiments expressed by The Boss reflect the harsh reality of the place in society held by people like Daisy and Violet at the time. Though Walton is perhaps lacking the imposing physical stature that would make The Boss more threatening, he attempts to compensate by speaking and singing in the raspy part of his voice. In fact, he is far more menacing when he utters in a sotto voce "You shut your mouth" to Daisy and Violet. Sometimes understated works better. Jerel Brown needs to bring a more masculine edge to his portrayal of Jake and stronger facial commitment to his lines. His singing voice is a bit too soft for most of the show and, while he does bring it vocally at the end of the song "You Should Be Loved," his staging looks like a moment from "American Idol."
A live six-piece orchestra plays the score beautifully. Lighting and scenic design provide a glimpse at the dingy circus world from which Daisy and Violet emerged. The stark shadows of the actors cast upon the side walls via lighting is most effective. Choreography is hit and miss; the numbers featuring Daisy and Violet, such as "We Share Everything," the production number "Rare Song Birds on Display" and "One Plus One Equals Three," are charming. Choreography/staging in other numbers, such as "Say Goodbye to the Freak Show" seems a bit sophomoric and deliberate. Though there is some unevenness in the ensemble (clearly some of them are not soloists), they manage to sing all of the group numbers very well.
Side Show is by its nature problematic. Lengthy sections of recitative-feeling vocal exchanges are melodically unmemorable, and lend themselves to stagnant staging. They make the first act drag a bit. The subject matter may not be of interest to all, though it is a story worth telling. With that said, this rarely done production is worth seeing for the performances of Kaela Antolino and Cortney Poston as Daisy and Violet alone.
The other works of Side Show composer Henry Krieger include the 1981 Tony Award nominated musicals Dreamgirls (featuring lyrics and book by Tom Eyen) and The Tap Dance Kid in 1983. The other works of his Side Show partner, librettist and lyricist Bill Russell, include Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Pageant, Lucky Duck, Up in the Air and The Last Smoker In America.
The Slow Burn Theatre production of Side Show will be appearing through February 10, 2013, at the West Boca Performing Arts Center on the campus of West Boca High School, 12811 West Glades Rd. (3.5 miles west of 441). The Slow Burn Theatre Company is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) professional theatre company hiring local actors and actresses. They are committed to bringing high-quality contemporary musical theatre to South Florida, and proving that modern Broadway can rock. The company also offers technical internships to local students, providing them with professional experience. For more information on Slow Burn you may contact them by phone at 866-811-4111 or online at slowburntheatre.org.