Side Show

This is a bold statement, but I highly doubt you’ll find a live theatre experience like this anywhere else in New York—and I mean anywhere.

By Andrew Andrews

White Plains Performing Arts Center presents Henry Krieger and Bill Russell’s Side Show, directed by Frank Portanova with Stephen Ferri conducting. Promotional image from the company.

Daisy and Violet Hilton, “Siamese twins,” are exhibited as part of a carnival side show by an abusive ringmaster in the early 1900s.

An aspiring musician named Buddy brings a talent scout for the vaudeville circuit named Terry to see their potential as serious performers, and the duo secretly train the sisters in voice and dance until their routine is worthy of a wider audience.

Noticing how Daisy and Violet respond to Terry and Buddy’s interest in them as more than just freaks, the men begin to lead the young ladies on, creating romantic tension that causes trouble for their business relationship down the road.

When the twins tell the side show Boss that they’re leaving, the Boss threatens them with a belt, and the rest of the entertainers (including the Geek, Bearded Lady, Three-Legged Man, Snake Lady and Jake the “Cannibal King”) threaten to quit if the Boss doesn’t clean up his act.

Dramatizing the biography of the real-life Hilton sisters, who were conjoined by a fused pelvis and a shared circulatory system, Side Show appeared on Broadway briefly in 1997 and again in 2014.

Taylor Okey, David Neil Ossman, Brianna Brice, Jenna Leigh Miller, Andrew Foote, Logan Graye, Rebecca Skowron, Keith Mankowski, Alexander Rothfield, Rosie Staudt, Matthew Blum, Miguel Angel Vasquez and Matthew Henningsen (shown) join leads Rebecca Kuznick, Emily Kristen Morris, Jack Brewer and Bronson Norris Murphy. Original photo by Justin Swader.

This was my first show at the White Plains Performing Arts Center, and I’m pretty sure I said “Wow!” out loud when I stepped into the house and saw the most roomy, comfortable stadium seats I’ve ever encountered at a live theatre performance.

The twelve-member orchestra and the major players on stage (including five equity actors) delivered a Broadway-quality performance at a price so low that even the TKTS booth can’t come close to it.

Scenic and lighting design are equally professional, as are the dozens of costumes and makeup effects, creating a carnival atmosphere that reaches beyond the stage and welcomes you to Come Look at the Freaks.

The abilities of the actors in minor roles varied (although it was really only obvious during the larger dance numbers) and a few barely-noticeable technical imperfections divulged a tinge of inexperience behind the scenes.

Side Show’s music isn’t quite worthy of a main attraction: while there are a handful of really good songs, the majority are too narrative and/or conversational, which drags down the momentum of the otherwise decent story.

Given its lyrical flaws, I don’t think anyone could turn Side Show into a five-star production, which no doubt explains why its two appearances on Broadway were both short-lived. But the comfort and value of the White Plains performance, combined with the overall level of professionalism, results in a very enjoyable evening… and I can hardly wait to see what they offer up next!

4

Andrew Andrews attended Side Show at White Plains Performing Arts Center in White Plains on Saturday, April 23, 2022 @ 8:00pm to write this review.