Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Side Show @ The St. James Theatre

From the moment the audience at Side Show is invited to “Come Look at the Freaks,” they’ll be drawn into an odd spectacle they’ll find it hard to resist.  Based on the true story of famed conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, this story follows the sisters (played by Emily Padgett and Erin Davie respectively) from their lonely lives as a freak show attraction to the height of their vaudeville fame.
Daisy and Violet begin their journey under a big-top in Texas under the controlling Sir (Robert Joy).  Together, Terry (Ryan Silverman) and Buddy (Matthew Hyzdik) whisk the sisters off from a dead-end life as sideshow entertainers and make them the hottest ticket in vaudeville.  From there, the sisters’ experiences in love and fame create a compelling and well-told story about their life together and the lasting bond of sisterhood.
As he sets the scene, Joy’s frightening-yet-fantastic performance as the devilish ringmaster Sir commands attention from the moment he begins to introduce his band of freaks (played wonderfully by Brandon Bieber, Matthew Patrick Davis, Charity Angel Dawson, Lauren Elder, Javier Ignacio, Jordanna James, Kelvin Moon Loh, Barrett Martin, Don Richard, Blair Ross, Hannah Shankerman, and Josh Walker), which includes a bearded lady, the lizard man, a geek, and many others.  Davie and Padgett give the sisters powerful life, exuding chemistry and immense talent, even while connected at the hip.  As Terry, the greasy vaudeville manager and Daisy’s selfish lover, Silverman gives a near-perfect performance (his only flaw being that he’s almost too likeable).  Hyzdik is utterly charming in the role of Buddy, Violet’s conflicted love interest.  The ensemble, which includes Derek Hanson, Con O’Shea-Creal, and MichaelJon Slinger, provides powerful vocals and excellent support in various roles throughout the sisters’ journey.
Perhaps the only disappointment from the cast comes from David St. Louis portraying Jake, the sisters’ deeply attached caretaker.  While he does a tremendous job in many of the numbers, he seems to lack the emotional commitment necessary to play this pivotal character, especially in some of the more touching second-act scenes.
It’s notable that this production, helmed by film director Bill Condon, includes new content added by Condon himself to compliment Bill Russell’s original book and lyrics and Henry Krieger’s music.  The content gives more historical perspective (including an appearance by Harry Houdini himself) and never allows the show, which is set during the Depression and deals with some very emotional moments for the sisters, to become dreary or sluggish.  The set (designed by David Rockwell) is another triumph of the production, adding to the spectacle as it takes us from the a dingy big-top in Texas to the glitter of Vaudeville stages.

The new life breathed into this production paired with the powerhouse performances given by Davie and Padgett alone are truly enough to make this Side Show worth the price of admission.  The stellar technical work and supporting performances simply sweeten the deal, and are sure to leave audiences craving a second peek at the spectacle they’ve experienced under the big-top at one of Broadway’s most exciting revivals.

Review By: Jacob R. HinesPhotos By: Joan Marcus

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