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BWW Reviews: 3-D Theatricals Big Bold SIDE SHOW Is a Hot Ticket


Side Show/book & lyrics by Bill Russell/music by Henry Krieger/directed by T.J. Dawson/3-D Theatricals at Plummer Auditorium, Fullerton/through May 10

The musical Side Show played Broadway in 1997 for 91 performances and was Tony nominated but never got the recognition it deserved. A revamped version went to Broadway in 2014, but it, too, closed early. Like Jason Robert Brown's Parade, another noteworthy Broadway miss, it's worth the attention, but its dark grotesque presentation of carnival freak shows is not the most appealing fare for commercial theatre audiences. Many are repelled by the sight of a man with three legs, a bearded lady, a half-man, half-woman or in the case of Daisy and Violet Hilton, by the appearance of twins who are conjoined. The girls hated the term Siamese twins, for they were not Siamese, and also if people asked them if they wanted to be normal. What is normal? Now in a revival production of the original - not the 2013 revamped production, which played La Jolla and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. before Broadway - by 3-D Theatricals at Plummer Auditorium, Fullerton, Side Show comes out as winning and memorable as when it first appeared.

Conflict arises in the basic storyline when Terry Connor an agent representing the Orpheum Circuit (Gregg Hammer) encourages musician Buddy Foster (Gary Brintz) to write an audition song for the Hiltons (Afton Quast and Jeanette Dawson) that they will sing in the hopes of catapulting them into vaudeville. Daisy, the extrovert, flirtatious seeker of fame and fortune loves the idea but Violet, the more introverted one, sees all of that as shameful and would rather find a husband; she is consequently doubtful about taking the risk. For both of them it means leaving the frightening world of the side show behind, run by The Boss (Nathan Holland), who is an evil-minded con. Yet there is some security in this place with those performers who have become their family. What makes matters worse is Daisy's attraction to handsome Terry and Violet's, although unspoken, love for Buddy. A business deal is hatched, they leave, and the girls become misled into thinking that the two men really care about them. Jake (Jay Donnell), a big strong man from the Freak show, is their truest friend and protector and leaves to work as bodyguard for them in the vaudeville gig, always with his silent, romantic eye on Violet and his mind made up to make them see the truth about what is really going on. He is the only person out to serve their best interests. When a wedding between Violet and Buddy is planned for big promotional purposes in Texas, trouble arises and Terry's promotional scheme is exposed. There is a somewhat happy ending for the girls, but not the one that each had dreamed of...however, their love and attachment to one another is undeniably strong "I Will Never Leave You", one of the most beautiful songs along with "Who Will Love Me as I Am?"

The ensemble are fantastic. Quast and Dawson are beautiful, dynamic performers. Hammer does fine work as Terry, concealing his true intentions. Donnell is dynamite as Jake and his "You Should Be Loved" is a jolting heartbreaker. Brintz does terrifically with Buddy and Holland as The Boss is hardcore oppressive. It is great to see stalwart pros like Tracy Lore as Half Man, Half Woman, Matthew Ballestero as the Bearded Lady and Chris Holly knocking 'em out in the ensemble, also dance captain. Kudos to T.J. Dawson for wonderful staging, to Leslie Stevens for her fab choreography, to Stephen Gifford for his colorful set designs and to Kate Bergh for her astoundingly beautiful costumes.

Side Show demands to be seen. True, it is not a show for the squeamish, but it contains so much relevance to the daily workings of humanity. Who is normal, after all? And...everyone deserves love. The manner in which Daisy and Violet treat one another is a great life lesson for one and all. Thanks to Russell, Krieger and Condon, the show delves into the girls' interior feelings, and 90% sung, it is akin to an engrossingly appealing rock opera of sorts. 3-D Theatricals makes Side Show The Main Event.

(photo credit: Isaac James Creative)

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