Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Side Show is based on the true story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. They started out performing in various sideshows in the 1930s, but after being discovered by a talent scout rose to playing vaudeville and even bigger venues. The show documents this part of their lives, as the twins did play in side shows before moving to vaudeville, but the musical is only partially accurate about the actual life of Daisy and Violet, adding fictionalized backstage drama and romantic relationships that the twins encounter along the way. It does include the offer the twins actually received to basically play themselves in Freaks, the 1932 cult film by Todd Browning, which is how most of the world knew of the twins before this musical.
The book and lyrics are by Bill Russell and the music is by Henry Krieger, plus Bill Condon contributed additional book material for the revised version. Krieger wrote the music for another very famous musical documenting the rise to fame and backstage drama of a performing group: Dreamgirls. The show does a good job of portraying how these "freaks" of the sideshow, like the bearded lady, the tattooed man, and "Siamese" twins, are just like everyone else. The 2014 version of the musical includes more of the backstory of how the girls came to be working in a side show and also gives a few more details about the relationships they had with the men in their lives. However, some of the character motivations are still a bit stilted and a decision that one of the characters makes toward the end of the show seems only to exist to provide conflict before the finale. Also, while the majority of the score is superb, a few of the added changes for the revised version aren't quite on par with some of the songs that were cut.
Limelight's cast features Samantha Timothy and Annabelle Skala as Violet and Daisy, and they both deliver excellent portrayals of these very different sisters with clear, bright and beautiful singing voices. They provide engaging and heartbreaking portrayals that make you want to protect them and root for their success. Their voices blend together beautifully on their several duets and they also deliver some tricky dance steps with ease, which, considering they have to make the audience believe they are attached to each other for almost the entire show, has to be extra hard to achieve. Also, with their deep emotional take on the roles, you quickly realize how huge the issue of never being able to be alone truly is when you are literally attached to another person.
While not everyone in the cast has the rich singing abilities these two have, and a few cast members struggle to hold and hit the sustained high notes in a few of the numbers, Jordan Sagy is excellent as Jake, the African-American side show worker who is secretly in love with Violet. His deep, rich voice delivers some soaring notes and he paints a fine picture as the main protector of the girls. As the two other men who come into the girls' lives, Julian Diaz and Hayden Keegan are good as, respectively, Terry, the agent who may be using the girls, and Buddy, the young man who helps the girls with their singing and dancing. Jordan Gingell is stellar as the seedy man who runs the side show, and Tamara Benham is appropriately nasty as the girls' domineering Auntie.
Director Jamie Bauer-Spano stages the entire show in a blank space with only the essence of a "big top" circus tent overhead, using a revolving platform, an arched entry way, two raised playing areas, and a few small set pieces to evoke the multiple locations in the show. It may be simple but it works incredibly well. Bauer-Spano keeps the show moving at a fast pace which, considering there are multiple costume changes for the twins, is a great achievement and provides a high level of energy and excitement. Emma England and Niki Gray's music direction delivers some lush tones from the large cast and England's conducting of the small, but very good, five-piece band is exceptional. England also provided the inventive choreography, and designed the lighting, which paints both bright moments for the upbeat songs as well as moody scenes full of shadows for the seedier sections. England and Cynthia Timothy's costumes, which are abundant, are exceptional, and when combined with England's detailed hair and make-up designs, create a wide range of realistic and superb "freaks."
Side Show isn't a perfect show; however, it provides not only an interesting view into the story of these two real women but also an intriguing commentary on the the desire we all have to see oddities or things like car crashes that we can't look away fromour desire to "Come Look at the Freaks." It may not be that well known, but fortunately Emma England and Limelight like to add an off-beat show to their season each year and because of that, audiences in the Phoenix area can get a glimpse of the Side Show freaks in this excellent production.
Side Show at Limelight Performing Arts runs through October 29th, 2017, with performances at 511 W Guadalupe Rd Suite 12, Gilbert, AZ 85233. Tickets are on sale at www.limelightyouththeater.org or by calling 480-545-1492
Director: Jamie Bauer-Spano