Sunday, December 14, 2014

Side Show

Call me Joanne Kaufman. I knew from the downbeat of the horrifically misguided new production of Henry Krieger and Bill Russell's Side Show, currently in its final weeks at the St. James Theatre, that when intermission came, it would be time for me to go. The original production--which made Broadway stars of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, despite a similarly short run--is beloved by many, myself included. Coming of age musical-theatre obsessed in the late nineties, I don't think there was a cast album I subjected my parents to more. (Love ya, mom and dad!) The compelling story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, the unabashedly melodramatic score, and the harmonious blending of those two leading voices--what more could you want? Maybe my personal bar was set too high, but the heavily revised book and lyrics pale in comparison to the original, and Act One (which is all I can fairly judge) crawls along at a snail's pace. The staging, by Academy Award winning film director Bill Condon, has no spark; attempts at freak show hyper-reality bring to mind Spencer's Gifts more than Tod Browning.

It also doesn't help that Emily Padgett and Erin Davie, playing Daisy and Violet, respectively, are as charisma-free a pair of headliners as I've ever seen in a major musical production. In the original production, Skinner was a strong alto capable of riffing her face off, while Ripley employed both an angelic soprano and a fearlessly high belt. Padgett and Davie both sing like church sopranos, dull as dishwater. It's smart singing, perhaps, but never exciting. Their voices and physical presentation (both done up in mousy brown wigs) are so similar that it's often hard to tell them apart, much less care about their hopes and dreams, which they enumerate in "Like Everyone Else," a merciful holdover from the original production. The rest of the cast--which includes Ryan Silverman, Matthew Hydzik, David St. Louis, and Robert Joy in principal roles--is serviceable, if hardly captivating.

photo: Drew Angerer

Side Show will shutter on January 4, 2015, seventeen years and one day from the original production's closing date. It will have played even fewer performances than its predecessor. Perhaps, as was the case then, the closing notice will bring renewed interest to this struggling revisal. I'd say that you'd do just as well to stay home and listen to the vastly superior original cast recording.

[Last row orchestra, all the way to the side, TDF]

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