By Kay Kipling
The story of Side Show, now onstage at the Players, probably isn’t for everyone. Taking off from (and fictionalizing) the true-life tale of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who performed in show business for most of their lives, Side Show navigates some dark corners, starting with the freak show the young sisters were initially a part of—complete with a bearded lady, the chicken-blood-drinking geek, the fat lady and other staples of the old midway days.
The first number of this Bill Russell/Henry Krieger show sets the tone; it’s Come Look at the Freaks, and as directed by Michael Newton-Brown and with the backing of a fuller than usual orchestra led by Joyce Valentine, it’s a dramatic beginning that already asks us to examine who the real freaks are—those on view or those who come to gawk. But don’t be put off; at the heart of the show is the relationship between the twins, played to near-perfection by Alana Opie (Daisy) and Danae DeShazer (Violet), and their search, not just for the spotlight, but for love.
Of course true love isn’t easy to find for any of us, and that makes it easy to relate to their wish to find someone Who Will Love Me As I Am, the show’s Act I closing anthem, which is rendered with emotion and skill by the lead actresses. Violet has fallen for Buddy (Jason Kimble), an earnest type who spots the twins in the show run by the harsh Boss (David Walker) and brings them to the attention of producer Terry (Tim Fitzgerald), who in turn becomes Daisy’s love interest. But while the men have real feelings for the women, the idea of being part of a permanent threesome (or foursome) is a difficult one to accept.
Daisy and Violet have their own issues, despite their love for each other, which the show’s songs carefully delineate, from Like Everyone Else to Leave Me Alone to Feelings You’ve Got to Hide. They’re almost as different as they are alike, but they know they can trust only each other—and perhaps Jake, the big-hearted, former “cannibal king” of the freak show, who loves Violet (played with fervor by Terry Rhodes—to have their best interests at heart.
The production, which Newton-Brown also designed (with costumes by Kathy Sutton), is interesting to watch as it moves from midway to vaudeville to the Follies and beyond, even though when the entire cast is onstage the movement and lyrics can sometimes get confusing. And while Fitzgerald and Kimble both deliver vocally (the former on the poignant Private Conversation and the latter on One Plus One Equals Three), you may not find their relationships with the girls totally convincing.
But there are enough strong songs and touching moments here—and those sterling performances by Opie and DeShazer—to power Side Show to a stirring conclusion. The production continues only through this Sunday, May 5; for tickets call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.