Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Side Show
Blank Canvas Theatre
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Also see Mark's reviews of The Humans, King Charles III and Br'er Cotton

The Cast of Side Show
Photo by Andy Dudik
Long before politically correct became the order of the day, they were known as "freaks" and for "one thin dime" you could view their frightening deformities when the circus sideshow hit your town. These are the inhabitants of Bill Russell (book and lyrics) and Henry Krieger's (music) musical, Side Show, now in production at Blank Canvas Theatre.

There is Dog-Faced Boy (David Lenahan), who snaps and snarls much to the delight of the crowd, Geek (Vince Matia), who eats live birds on stage, the Bearded Lady (Susan M. Wagner), with her luxuriant facial hair, Bird Girl (Meredith Aleigha Wells), whose nose more closely resembles a beak, Lizard Man (Joe Gibson), with his deformed brow made even more grotesque with the addition of green make-up, the armless Venus di Milo, (Julie C. Okuley), along with Half Man/Half Woman (Katie Jerome Taylor), Tattoo Girl (Leah Kraynak), Fortune Teller (Day Ash), Three-Legged Man (Andrew Keller), and The Human Pin Cushion (Jacob Schafer). The most famous of these human oddities, The Hilton Twins (Stephanie Harden and Becca Ciamacco), were joined at the hip.

Violet and Daisy Hilton were abandoned by their mother at birth and cared for by the midwife (Susan M. Wagner). Auntie, as the girls called her, fell in love and married Sir (John J. Polk), who when Auntie suddenly passed away, became the twins' guardian and started the sideshow with the conjoined sisters as his featured act.

Enter Terry Connor (Joel Fenstermaker), an out of work promoter, and Buddy Foster (Ian Jones), a failed songwriter and choreographer. They dazzle the girls with promises of top billing on the Orpheum Circuit. The twins leave Sir and the sideshow, taking their caretaker Jake (Daryl Kelly), who was the company's resident Native Cannibal, but had in truth been born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey.

Fame and fortune soon follow for all five as the singing and dancing oddity is the hit of vaudeville at the height of the Great Depression. The girls are polar opposites when it comes to their new career. While Daisy relishes the attention and fame, Violet would rather find a husband and settle down. Complications arise when Buddy falls in love with Violet and proposes to her as she is (with Daisy attached), while Terry professes his love of Daisy but only if the twins are separated. Added to this is the appearance of a Hollywood movie producer who needs the fame of the upcoming wedding in order to have the twins (still joined) star in his newest movie project, Freaks.

With twenty-seven songs, there is no shortage of music in this slightly over two-hour performance (with added ten minute intermission). What is amazing is the cast of seventeen actors being able to negotiate a stage area no larger than most folks' living room, with a double-tiered thrust stage smack in the middle.

Stephanie Harden and Becca Ciamacco as the twins do yeoman's labor as they are featured in twenty-one of the musical numbers while somehow avoiding being separated. Other notables are David Lenahan as Houdini during his "Flashback Part 3" number and Daryl Kelley as Jake during his four numbers. The rest of the cast fill in the various roles and as a team do suitable ensemble work backed by a seven-piece orchestra. The only complaint of note is that at times the orchestra slightly overpowers the under-microphoned cast. Director Patrick Ciamacco does well keeping this large group together through the intricate storytelling process.

If your taste in theater tends towards the more avant guarde and whimsical, you will love this newest offering by Blank Canvas. While the sit time is a bit long, the endearing cast fills the time with rather brilliant orchestrations and songs. Longstanding fans of the company, who brought us such off-kilter treats as Texas Chainsaw Musical, Silence the Musical, Sweeney Todd and others, will enjoy this bit of musical oddness. Upcoming productions for this season include Hedwig and the Angry Inch, We Will Rock You, Cannibal and Avenue Q.

Side Show, through April 28, 2018, at Blank Canvas, 305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased at

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