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BWW Review: SIDE SHOW at The Henegar Center


An emotional and thought-provoking production in Melbourne, FL

BWW Review: SIDE SHOW at The Henegar Center In today's society, when someone is born with a birth defect, has an unusual look or is simply unlike most others, we use our understanding of science and a myriad of protections and laws to ensure those individuals receive equal treatment. They have the opportunity (and right) to live their life in the same way as those born without disability or disfigurement. But that has not always been the case. People born in eras past with even minor physical or mental deformities were labeled "freaks" and consigned to live in the shadows, or in many cases, in the spotlight of the circus side show. But underneath the bearded lady's beard or the wolf boy's "fur" was always a living, breathing human being, with real emotions, needs, and dreams. And many of their stories have been lost to history. But not so for the story of the Hilton sisters, as told in Bill Russell and Henry Krieger's musical SIDE SHOW, currently playing at The Henegar Center in Melbourne, FL.

BWW Review: SIDE SHOW at The Henegar Center SIDE SHOW is one of those musicals that sits on the periphery and often haunts musical theatre fans - partly due to the subject matter and its beautiful songs (by Henry Krieger) but also because it is simply not a show that is staged often - limiting opportunities to see it performed (beyond archival footage and imagery). Originally playing on Broadway in 1997 and in a more recent revival in 2014, SIDE SHOW is the story of the real-life Hilton sisters - Daisy (Grace Gustino) and Violet (Sofia Bordner) who were conjoined twins who lived during the Great Depression. When the play begins they are part of the circus side show run by the emcee and owner of the show, Sir (Dominic Del Brocco), traveling the US with fellow "freaks". They are "discovered" by aspiring musician Buddy Foster (Eric Barnum) who drags Terry Conner (David Bracamonte), a recruiter with the vaudeville Orpheum Circuit to see the girls. Terry and Buddy convince Daisy and Violet to let them teach them a number, hoping to turn them into a new act. Daisy, who dreams of fame and fortune is thrilled, but Violet, who dreams of a life with a home and a husband, takes more convincing. The twins are then faced with a major choice to stay or leave the life of the side show, the only one they have ever known.

BWW Review: SIDE SHOW at The Henegar Center The Henegar Center's production of SIDE SHOW is a dark, thoughtful and emotional musical. The subject matter, while unconventional, stirs thoughts of today's society and how we see those who are different from us. Being a true story, it fascinates as the audience is drawn into an unfamiliar world, at times uncomfortable, but ultimately enlightening as we see the lives of the Hilton sisters unfold on stage. Executive Artistic Director, Dominic Del Brocco, does a great job capturing the humanity of the side show performers and creates an atmosphere of tension with fleeting moments of joy. He is also deliciously sinister and slimy in his role as the side show owner, Sir.

BWW Review: SIDE SHOW at The Henegar Center The vast majority of the actors in SIDE SHOW play performers in the side show tent (along with other ensemble roles), and do a solid job bringing their characters to life. In the roles of the Hilton sisters, Grace Gustino (Daisy) and Sofia Bordner (Violet) are wonderful. They have a great chemistry together on stage and convey the similarities and differences of the two very well. Their delivery of the emotional numbers "Who Will Love Me As I Am" and "I Will Never Leave You" was thrilling to witness (especially for this writer who count these songs as all time favorites). As Terry, David Bracamonte has a strong stage presence and a solid voice and shows off a range of emotions over the course of the play. Eric Barnum, is an optimistic but conflicted Buddy. Another standout performance worth noting is that of Jake, the "Cannibal King" who is Daisy and Violet's protector and friend - played by Jared Sierra. Mr. Sierra has a soaring voice that filled the auditorium and reminded me of Norm Lewis, who played the role in the original Broadway cast.

BWW Review: SIDE SHOW at The Henegar Center As for the creative team, scenic designer Cliff Price has once again designed a set that captures the essence of the show - with an immersive circus tent and platform levels (and rotating elements) that convey the spectacle of the side show perfectly. Marcy Szymanski's costumes and wigs were spot on, especially considering the challenge many of the characters' costumes posed. Vocal director Ethan Lolley brings out strong vocal performances from the cast. Chad Erickson's lighting design (and more likely its operation) while well intended was troublesome the night I attended - with distracting spotlights that moved too much.

BWW Review: SIDE SHOW at The Henegar Center Overall, The Henegar Center's production of SIDE SHOW is an emotional and thought-provoking show that leaves the audience thinking. It is darker and more reflective than many other musicals, but one that captures the underlying humanity of us all. It illustrates that even though we may look or feel different, we all deserve love and happiness and a chance to live normal lives. Finally, as previously noted, SIDE SHOW is not performed that often, so don't miss your chance to see this show before the side show packs up and leaves town.

BWW Review: SIDE SHOW at The Henegar Center


SIDE SHOW is presented at The Henegar Center, 625 E New Haven Ave, Melbourne, FL 32901 and runs through October 24th. Tickets are $25 - $36. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sunday matinees at 2:00pm. For more information, email, call 321-723-8698 (Tue-Fri, 10am-3pm), or visit

All Photos provided by The Henegar Center.

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