By John Farrell
It’s an intriguing idea: have two wonderful singing actresses portray Siamese twins, joined (literally) at the hip and destined to live their lives together.
Side Show did just that, and the show lasted on Broadway for just 97 performances a decade and a half ago.
The lead singers were tremendously popular, (they were awarded a joint Tony nomination) but the show wasn’t up to Broadway standards. Still, it has become something of a cult classic in revivals. Now it is getting an energetic, lively and poorly sung run-through by the Players Theatre at California State University, Long Beach, and if you are curious you can see it there and find out for yourself why the musical didn’t make it past 100 performances. Or you can read about it here and save yourself the trouble.
Side Show, as presented at CSULB, is boldly played on a revolving stage that uses bleachers as a theme for the freak show where the twins are discovered and taken from that show to success on the Keith-Orpheum Vaudeville circuit. The actors at CSULB are enthusiastic, the small pit band does its best, but there is no getting past the show’s trite and jaw-droppingly uninspired lyrics (by Bill Russell, who also wrote the predictable and heavy-handed book) and its very ordinary 1990s pop-rock score (by Henry Krieger.) You have to wonder how this work ever got to Broadway. Imagine the pitch: “Two sexy girls who can sing real good and just might have sex with the leading men. And a bunch of freaks with them! It’ll make millions.”
The show has its admirers, including Joanne Gordon, who directed the work. And she did the best she could with it. But when you combine lackluster book and lyrics with an admittedly attractive cast that couldn’t sing its way from a sideshow to vaudeville, you have a recipe for disaster. A couple of numbers were attractively staged, and when everybody was singing at once you could imagine it was pleasant. But when individuals sang solos off-key, out of time and with little imagination, it was obvious just how bad it was.
As the conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, Jessica Louise Garcia and Grace Byeon made a good pair, enough alike to be convincing and managing to portray the duo with a certain grace and charm, though their transformation from midway freaks to singing sensations depended on a lot of imagination. Brendan Quirk as Buddy Foster, who discovers the twins, and Eric Larson as Terry Connor, who promotes them, had moments, mostly when they weren’t singing. Ryan Harris had a more than passable voice and presence as Jake, the “King of the Cannibals” who could never express his love for Violet because he was black. Jared Pugh was “The Boss,” apparently intended as the side-show equivalent of the M.C. in Cabaret but without his smarmy charm. The rest of the large cast was lively, but never able to bring this appropriately forgotten relic to life.
Tickets for Side Show are $15, $12 for students and seniors. Performances are Friday, March 23 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 24 at 2 and 8 p.m.
Details: (562) 985-5526, www.csulb.edu/depts/theatre/side-show
Venue: Players Theatre
Location: Theatre Arts Bldg. 7th St. and East Campus Drive, Long Beach