The cult 1997 musical Side Show is back on Broadway, and this time around it is a sure-fire unqualified hit. 60% rewritten, the power ballads are still all there, while other songs have been cut and many others added. Relationships are better defined. Characters no longer just make irrational decisions. And what you now have is a tightly focused musical comedy drama of the first order where everything happens for a reason.
In short, I just loved this revisal — or rewrite as it is. From sets to performers to the best orchestrations currently on Broadway, it is a thrilling evening of theater. While it deals with dark material, the show itself is never dark, rather it teams with a spirit and enthusiasm that keeps you spellbound throughout.
For the uninitiated, the musical tells the story of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who escape an abusive sideshow background to become vaudeville and eventual movie stars during the depression. To convolute things, there is a kind-hearted choreographer who may or may not be in love with Violet (who longs for romance) and an agent who very much is in love with Daisy (who longs for fame) but with strings attached. Like the best of musicals, there are choices to be made, and the audience sees the result coming long before our characters do, making the ultimate result both thrilling and heartbreaking. The show ends long before exploring the twins eventual life circumstances. I’ll leave that to your own google search, because what comes after this musical is as fascinating as what occurs herein.
Erin Davie and Emily Padgett play Violet and Daisy, and their voices simply soar performing the Krieger score. They are able to convey two very different personalities, while sharing the simpatico that is so necessary in those roles. Clear-voiced Ryan Silverman plays the agent, Terry, and the dewey-eyed Matthew Hydzik plays Buddy, and gets in on some of the singing and dancing in the new numbers created for this revisal. David St Louis is simply stellar as Jake (his “You Should be Loved” is a bonafide show stopper). The entire ensemble plays multiple roles with skill and amazing vocal talent.
Easily half of the original score has been discarded, and new numbers re-written — and its all for the better in each instance: the songs work better, are less ensemble-bound, and allow clearer delineation of the characters. Some of them are better in every way — “Stuck with You”, the Act II opener comes to mind. Instead of a big vaudeville burlesque number (the original production’s “Rare Songbirds on Display”) you get rehearsal and then production of an upbeat number involving the girls, Buddy, and another male ensemble member (who later plays a much more important part in explaining Buddy’s ambivalence toward marriage) It is a superb substitution, and the execution is gut-wrenching and every bit musical comedy at the same time. The abysmal “Tunnel of Love” from the original is gone, with the melody reworked into the later “Wedding Show” in this one.
Intermission now comes in a different place, and clearly draws a line between leaving the side show, and their future lives away from there. Every single number lands on both an entertainment as well as a dramatic level — and the audience leaves feeling both emotionally drained as well as exhilarated.
Orchestrations are remarkable — I might go so far to say that they are the best current orchestrations on Broadway. With a driving force that pushes the show forward, as if to a pounding heartbeat, the instrumentation propels the action and never gets in the way when not necessary to do so. Kudos to UM grad Greg Jarrett who conducted my performance.
Don’t hesitate to get tickets to Side Show — an evening of musical theater that you will not soon forget. And when you purchase tickets, keep in mind that the St. James Theatre is humongous. For this production lower and closer is better.
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