Come Look At the Freaks!
REVIEW: SIDE SHOW, 3D THEATRICALS
By RYAN M. LUÉVANO
The musical Side Show returns to the west coast after its second Broadway run, bringing the freaks to the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton CA, where 3D Theatricals has mounted its tent for this production. The true story of conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton comes to life in this extravagant production—no aesthetic detail is left unturned. The freaks are freaky, the vaudeville skirts are shiny, and the original sets by Stephen Gifford are beautifully designed and executed. The atmosphere of a turn of the century carnival invades the auditorium as strings of lights hang like garland overhead from stage to audience, and when it is time to “Come Look at the Freaks” the audience is fully immersed in the world of a freak show, huddling together under a big tent awaiting what’s to come.
The diverse and talented cast in this production offers many stellar performances that put Bill Russell’s dark, grungy, and vulnerable characters in front of audiences for inspection and acceptance.
At the forefront of the musical are the Hilton twins played by Afton Quast (Daisy) and Jeanette Dawson (Violet) both of which expertly captured the essence of the characters and worked to give the audiences some one to root for, someone to empathize with. It is apparent that the two women spent much time together to garner the believability of these conjoined sisters; after all they spent the whole show dancing, acting and singing all while joined at the hip. What is even more astounding is that their union at hip was not achieved by artificial means—specially sewn clothes, or magnets—the two simply created the illusion by remaining close together for the entire show. And side-by-side the twins perform Henry Krieger’s haunting score delivering the show’s celebrated anthems, “Who Will Love Me as I Am?” and “I Will Never Leave You” with all emotional fervor they possessed even when the vocal demands of the material presented physical challenges—simply put they rose to the occasion with everything they had.
As a whole the biggest dramatic liability this musical suffers from (which is of no fault to 3D Theatricals) is book problems—there isn’t enough at stake. The story of the Hilton twins is largely one-sided. The audience follows only the journey of these twins who like the other freaks are different and outcasts, as they search for freedom, fame, love and acceptance. With the opportunity for numerous possibilities for other stories from the other freaks, they are instead left in the dark as the Twins leave the side show for bigger and better things in the first act.
The only other captivating tale within this show is that of Jake, the Cannibal King played by Jay Donnell, who professes his love for Violet in the second act only to be denied thereafter. In this production Donnell’s performance leaves much to be admired, even as an auxiliary character his portrayal of Jake gives the audience at least one other story to emotionally invest. The sincerity of his performance evokes the despair of the Gershwin’s and Heyward’s Porgy, another man who loves a woman yet fails to rescue her from the circumstances of her own existence. Jake’s two songs, “The Devil I Know” and especially his ballad “You Should Be Loved” offer two musical highlights as Donnell’s warm and powerful voice resonates with the sound of heart and soul in this production.
WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC DIRECTOR?
As fellow music director I will always be the voice of the unsung hero that often dwells in the deep, dark musical pit of any musical—the music director. The music direction of this show by Allen Everman was immaculate. Specifically, for a show that is almost entirely sung, the coordination of voices with voices and voices with orchestra was very exact. Although the conductor was not in my view I could tell that he expertly followed his cast and that they trusted his direction. Additionally the 20-piece orchestra (Los Angeles Musicians Collective) was a superb collection of musicians that played the score beautifully.
Another successful production by 3D Theatricals! Bringing the clean, extravagant, tasteful, professional and commercial standards of Broadway to the West Coast so that audiences and actors in Southern California can enjoy their own slice of Broadway at the regional theater level. If only for the sake of the musical itself I wish we knew the story of the Bearded lady, Pinhead, Dolly Dimples or the Three-Legged Man—but I sense that there will be no further revivals for the rest of the freaks as the creators move on to their next musical endeavor.