“Side Show” at the St. James Theatre (Closed on Sunday January 4, 2015)

December 18, 2014 | Broadway | Tags:
Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell
Music by Henry Krieger
Additional Book Material by Bill Condon
Directed by Bill Condon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Side Show’s” messages of self-acceptance, unconditional and non-judgmental love, and commitment bring audiences to their feet at the close of the re-imagined musical currently playing at the St. James Theatre and surprisingly scheduled to close on Sunday January 4, 2015. The musical opened to exceptionally positive reviews in November and nightly has elicited (rarely experienced from Broadway audiences) acclamations from the audience during the performance. So with these accolades, new music by Henry Krieger and an outstanding cast, the question remains, why is this musical closing early? Is there something inherent in this story that has challenged two attempts at a successful Broadway run?

The true story of Violet Hilton (played splendidly by Megan McGinnis at this performance) and Daisy Hilton (Emily Padgett) is remarkable: they were legends in their time and the highest paid performers on the vaudeville circuit. “Side Show” is the story of their heartwarming search for first love and acceptance amidst the spectacle of fame and scrutiny under the spotlight. The first act of “Side Show” recounts the details of their story and their internal conflicts with charm and grace. Their external conflicts with Sir (Robert Joy) and their conflicts with society’s dogged disapprobation result in a powerful connection with audience members, each with her or his own story of longing for love and acceptance.

The second act of “Side Show” is not as strong as the first and depends heavily on the endearing “I Will Never Leave You” to anchor its development. The first act ends with “Who Will Love Me As I Am” and when, in the second, Jake (played with remarkable power and innocence by David St. Louis) offers that authentic love to Violet, he is rebuffed for the same reasons Violet and Daisy are denied full acceptance by society.

The facts of the story cannot be changed understandably, but it is difficult to understand how two women victimized by prejudice are not more capable of overcoming issues of race and culture. And in a time when lesbian and gay citizens can finally marry, it is also (again despite its truth) difficult to accept a gay character’s unwillingness to accept himself and deny his right to a loving relationship with another man choosing instead to marry for convenience and profit. Perhaps these conflicts in the musical fail to counterpoint with the power of the protagonists’ victories and in some non-conscious way detract from the catharsis needed by the audience.

None of this speculation detracts from the power of the musical or from its potential for continued success. A London run is in the discussion stage and a live recording was made for the Lincoln Center Library on December 17th. Certainly there is ample interest in “Side Show.” And that interest is generated not only by the story of the conjoined twins but also by the way, under Bill Condon’s imaginative direction, the cast and creative team have chosen to tell that remarkable story. Matthew Hydzik (Buddy Foster), Robert Joy (Sir), Megan McGinnis (Violet on Saturday December 6), Emily Padgett (Daisy), David St. Louis (Jake), and Ryan Silverman (Terry Connor) could not be better in their roles and the supporting cast of freaks and stock characters excel in their respective important roles.

New York audiences have just a few days to witness a stunning musical before it closes prematurely. There is every reason to see “Side Show” and support the actors, the creative team, and the production team in their effort to tell the story of self-discovery and love.