Monday, August 29, 2011

Side Show

One of the best things about seeing a musical Off-Off-Broadway is hearing unmiked voices--when you can hear them. Unfortunately, only some of the cast members in the Sweet&Tart-Art of War production of Side Show (currently playing at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City) are consistently audible. It doesn't help that the band is behind the audience and often conflicts with, rather than works with, the performers. No matter how well a show is directed and how talented the people involved are, if you can't hear, it's all wasted.

Side Show is the fictionalized story of the Hilton sisters, conjoined twins who went from side shows to vaudeville to movies to working in a market as a cashier-bagger team. This is the third Side Show I've seen; the first two were the Broadway and  the Gallery Players versions. I've never liked the recitative, but this time around it struck me how much it damages the show by slowing down all conversations and limiting the performers' ability to act their lines. Someone I know always says, "Don't sing 'Pass the butter,'" and I have to agree. On the other hand, I was also struck by the show's many strengths, including frequently excellent music and lyrics and the compelling nature of the Hilton sisters' situation.

Director Brad Caswell made some excellent and interesting choices, particularly in the scenes where the sisters are still working in the side show. I think he made a mistake casting the twins, however: Nikki Van Cassele would have made a better Daisy and Erin Krom would have made a better Violet. Krom manages to rise above the miscasting with a heartfelt performance, while Cassele seems always to be straining to hold her energy in. Their voices also could have been better matched. I can't say much about Joshua Dixon's performance, as I could only hear about 10% of it, but it seemed like he might have been reasonably good as Terry, the man who gets the sisters into vaudeville. Alex Herrara has an interesting energy as Buddy, the man who teaches the sisters to sing and dance, and he looks right for the period, but he too was difficult to understand. Ken Bolander perhaps overacts as the creepy owner of the side show, but his presence and voice fill the space, for which I was grateful.

Costume designer Gary Lizardo did a good job on what must have been a small budget, but I wish he had given the rest of the side show denizens more character-driven clothing as he did with the Bearded Lady.  I'm not sure how much of Jenn Gartner's lighting design I saw, as it was an early performance and I suspect many cues were mishandled. Venita McLemore's choreography was enjoyable. The exhibit on the Hilton sisters in the lobby, created by Alyssa Van Gorder, did a good job of setting the mood and was fascinating to boot.

(I must mention that I only saw the first act. If I had been able to hear, I would have gladly stayed, but under the circumstances it seemed wiser to go home and buy water and canned food for the hurricane.) 

(press tix; 4th row center--right in front of the band, which was probably part of the problem)


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Anonymous said...

I just read this review because I was interested in this show. I don't know the show well and I don't know anyone in this cast but this review seems a bit obnoxious and lacking in legitimacy. If you didn't stay for the whole show why even write a review.

Wendy Caster said...

I completely get your point about not reviewing something I left. Here's why I thought it was okay to do so in this case:

1. Not being able to hear is a concrete and important point to make--one that the producers need to know about.

2. I had some positive things to say, which I thought also might be of help and interest.

3. I wanted to comment on the show itself, which I know very well.

4. I made it clear that I would have stayed if I had been able to hear. What's the point of staying, really, if you can't hear?

But, again, I see your point, and I didn't do this without thinking about it.