Broadway Theater Review: SIDE SHOW (St. James)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on November 18, 2014

in Theater-New York


Henry Krieger’s succulent score and the co-leads’ powerful, penetrating voices are among the few reasons to see Side Show, a dull bio-musical set in the first half of the 20th century, about a set of conjoined twins—loosely based on the life of the British-born Hilton sisters—who go from being exhibited in a travelling freak show to performing on Broadway. The concept is intriguing. But Bill Condon’s bland direction, Bill Russell’s lumpy, on-the-nose lyrics and suspense-free book (updating the 1997 Broadway version with additional material from Condon), and Anthony Van Laast’s unremarkable choreography turn what could have been a fascinating and moving story into a wasted opportunity.

Ryan Silverman, Emily Padgett, and Erin Davie in a scene from SIDE SHOW. (Photo Credit Joan Marcus)

Ambitious young publicist Terry (Ryan Silverman) happens upon Sir’s (Robert Joy) travelling freak show, where he meets a pair of conjoined twins, Violet (Erin Davie) and Daisy (Emily Padgett). Terry offers to represent the young ladies, promising to make them into big stars. But Jake (David St. Louis), whose twofold duties at the carnival are to play the African Cannibal King and to look after the girls, warns his charges in a stage-shaking bass-baritone that as bad as Sir is—the sisters are effectively Sir’s slaves and he treats them as such—the people out there in the world could be worse. Here’s a spoiler—they’re not.

The cast in a scene from SIDE SHOW. (Photo Credit Joan Marcus)

The performers do a fine job—it’s presentational musical theater acting but it works. There’s a clever visual bit involving projected shadows that captures one’s attention. And there is one musical number that’s memorable, the Vaudevillian “One Plus One Equals Three,” which poses a question: What’s going to happen in the bedroom when Buddy (Matthew Hydzik), who is Violet’s fiancé and performance partner, marries her? It’s the question we’re all asking, yet this is the only instance of it being broached.

David St. Louis, Emily Padgett and Erin Davie in a scene from SIDE SHOW. (Photo Credit Joan Marcus)

There are however two wistful dream sequences in which the twins separate and dance individually. This kind of sentimentality suggests a lack of imagination on Mr. Russell’s part to be able to picture the realities of his characters’ lives, a lack which appears contagious—the stage is consistently too empty, blocking is lifeless, and although the painted backdrops please the eye, David Rockwell’s actual sets feel generic and want for versatility. Conspicuously immune are Paul Tazewell and his exciting costumes.

Ryan Silverman, Emily Padgett, Erin Davie and Matthew Hydzik in a scene from SIDE SHOW. (Photo Credit Joan Marcus)

For all the Broadway razzle-dazzle, we’re never invested in the twins’ plight, which makes it difficult to side with this show.

Emily Padgett and Erin Davie in a scene from SIDE SHOW. (Photo Credit Joan Marcus)[Stage and Cinema‘s review of the pre-Broadway run at La Jolla Playhouse.]

photos by Joan Marcus

Side Show
St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St.
ends on January 4, 2015
for tickets, call (212) 239-6200
or visit

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