Joined at the hip

Side Show

Book and lyrics by Bill Russell
Music by Henry Krieger
Directed by Matt Schicker
Music direction by Cindy Gerlach
Choreography by Joe Barros
Gallery Players
199 14th Street, Brooklyn (212/352-3101)
Equity showcase (closes Mar. 12)
Review by Michael D. Jackson

Side Show is that short-lived Broadway musical about the Hilton sisters, the Siamese twins who rose to fame in vaudeville and are known chiefly from the MGM film Freaks. The story of this sung-through pop opera centers on the emotional war these two women fight as they go through life joined at the hip. From a shoddy sideshow job to success in vaudeville and the Ziegfeld Follies to a stint in Hollywood, the pair faces the extremes of knowing success and fearing for their future at every turn. Most important, after career success, is their ultimate desire to fall in love and marry. The answer seems to be with their managers, Buddy Foster (Jimmy Hays Nelson) and Terry Connor (Matt Witten), who fall in love with the sisters. However, when it comes to tying the knot, the men just can’t imagine spending the rest of their lives with Siamese twins.

This unique and unusual true story makes for a fascinating entertainment. The Gallery Players production was a much more rewarding show than to be expected based on the failed Broadway run. The pop score is full of passion and serves the emotional center of the story well. Most of the power-ballad material goes to the twins, played with an excellent combination of strength and vulnerability by Tiffany Diane Smith and Kristen Sergeant. Nelson and Witten, as their managers, though not as strong in voice as the twins, were well-cast and provided contrasting personalities -- Nelson, especially, showed great skill in an energetic tap number.

Matt Schicker directed a smooth production, utilizing Joseph Trainor’s set of rolling sideshow panels to good effect and herding the ensemble through some crowded sequences with style. Joe Barros came up with some period-appropriate dances that also blended well with a contemporary pop score. Particularly fun was a faux-Egyptian dance with the ensemble dressed in the period of King Tut and bouncing through a Charleston. Melanie Swersey managed a complete costume design on the limited Gallery Players’ budget for a show that asked a lot of her. Kevin Hardy’s lighting managed touches of mystery and showmanship in what was otherwise a merely sufficient lighting plot. Cindy Gerlach led a small band in superb musical support.

Special note must be made of the recruitment of two actual sideshow performers known as Rock-It and Amazon, who clipped heavy objects to their ears and swung them around without ripping flesh. They also managed a bed of nails routine and an assortment of other icky stunts, giving authenticity to the venture. For a big musical produced on a shoestring, this was a terrific event, especially as it served to showcase a great group of young talent.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2006 Michael D. Jackson