SIDE SHOW at Kennedy Center is Simply Spectacular

The show opens with a lovely intoxicating five note motif followed by a haunting melody. What a way to open a show. The song is "Come Look at the Freaks". And yes, there are many on the stage of Eisenhower Theater. They deserve to be named: Don Richard as Reptile Man, Lauren Elder as Venus di Milo, Javier Ignacio as Dog Boy, Blair Ross as Bearded Lady, Lelvin Moon Loh as Half man-Half Woman, Brandon Bieber as Three-Legged Man, Hannah Shankman as Tattoo Girl, Josh Walker and Jordanna James as the World's Tiniest Cossacks, Barrett Marin as Human Pin Cushion, Charity Dawson as the Fortune Teller, David St. Louis as the Cannibal King, and Matthew Patrick Davis as the Geek. Playing the two Roustabouts are Derek Hanson and Con O'Shea-Creal.

Once again the Kennedy Center has distinguished itself for producing incredible revivals. In 2009 it was RAGTIME. In 2011, it was FOLLIES. Both went on to Broadway and I will be shocked if this SIDE SHOW doesn't as well. It certainly deserves to be on a Broadway stage.

SIDE SHOW began on Broadway in 1997 and got four Tony nominations but lasted only three months.

The inspiration for this revivial came from the director of the movie adaptation of the hit musical DREAMGIRLS, Bill Condon. Condon has been reunited with DREAMGIRLS' composer Henry Krieger and lyricist Bill Russell who has also rewritten the book and made great improvements. I met Russell at intermission and he was proud of the new music written by Krieger, about ten new songs. There is no paucity of music in SIDE SHOW and the music is just plain wonderful.

The story is what may have turned people away in its initial Broadway incarnation for it concerns the true story of the Hilton sisters, born in England in the early 20th century, connected at the spine, Violet and Daisey are conjoined sisters. They were immediately put up for adoption, only to be put on display at a young age in pubs, circuses, and music halls. (In a recent BBC televison program, I noticed a poster of "The Hilton Sisters".)

A character named Sir (the evil Robert Joy in a role that reminded me of the MC in CABARET) in a new scene added for this revival, loses his Guardianship in a Court of Law thanks to the work of Terry (Ryan Silverman), a talent scout who dreams of the girls playing the Orpheum circuit), and Buddy (Matthew Hydzik) a vocal coach and dance man who teaches the girls a routine in preparation for their vaudeville act. Both Silverman and Hydzik are spot on in their roles and their voices carry the day. Their number to begin Act II with the sisters "Stuck With You" is dazzling. One of of the funnier moments is the clever "1 + 1 = 3". Playing the Hilton Sisters are Erin Davie (Violet) and Emily Padgett (Daisy) who can both expect Tony nominations when this show heads to Broadway. They are superb.

Playing Sir's assistant is Jake (the incomporable St. Louis) who joins the sisters to work backstage in their quest for stardom. St. Louis has two powerful songs. The first "The Devil You Know" warns the women about the trials and tribulations of life in the future and "You Should be Loved", expressing his true love for Violet. St. Louis I predict has a great future ahead of him. He has a commanding presence on stage.

There are 13 members of the cast of the show that began at the La Jolla Playhouse in California in November where it was a huge hit. Four songs were cut from that production and one new number added. There could even be more changes made but I truly don't believe they are necessary.

The music is just plain infectuous. The two "stand-alone" powerhouse numbers sung by the twins are "Who Will Love Me as I Am" that ends Act I to thunderous applause, and the anthem "I Will Never Leave You" which I'm surprised is not sung at weddings.

There are a number of individual performers who stand out and one of them is Ignacio who plays the famous Houdini who visits the sisters and gives them some advice. I also loved the voice of Charity Dawson.

This is Condon's first attempt at directing a musical on stage and he has established himself quite well in this venture. He has assembled a superb group to enhance the show. Conductor Sam Davis has a great set of musicians in the pit and the 15 orchestra is wonderful. The show's success is aided by the incredible make-up design (Cookie Jordan), Special Effects/Prosthetics Design (Dave and Lou Elsey), Wig and Hair Design (Charles G. LaPointe), Sound Design (Kai Harada), superb lighting by the incredible Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, amazing costumes (Paul Tazewell), and great Scenic Design (David Rockwell).

Special kudos to Choreographer Anthony van Laast and Associate Choregrapher Janet Rothermel for clever and wonderful choreography. I've always admired their work from JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT (I recall Rothermel from her days as Dance Captain in JOSEPH at Baltimore's Lyric Opera House in 1992) to MAMMA MIA!

The Kennedy Center brought back the souvenir stand used for their 2008 production of CARNIVAL to sell all sorts of memorabilia including a lovely tote bag ($18), mug ($12), magnet ($6), juggling balls ($22) and the Original Broadway Cast Recording CD ($18) which features Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner as the sisters, URINETOWN'S Jeff McCarthy, the original Toby from SWEENEY TODD, Ken Jennings, and two who have played the Phantom on Broadway, Hugh Panaro and Norm Lewis.

Noticed in the audience, the acclaimed composer Alan Menken.

See a nice article by Rebecca Ritzel about costume designer Paul Tazewell in the July 6, 2014 Washington Post.

SIDE SHOW runs through July 13 at the Eisenhower Theater while THE LION KING plays the Opera House until August 17. For tickets, call 202-467-4600 or visit Do not miss it.

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From This Author Charles Shubow

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