Whether as a young teenager, mid-aged widower or elderly senior citizen, we all experience the worry of living a life alone and unloved. Somehow, Porchlight Theatre’s production of Side Show taps into this fear, yet allows audiences to safely journey with its main characters to a place of neither acceptance nor rejection, but of new understanding.
This entertaining romp of a show is one for audiences who enjoy great music, unique storytelling and a heartbreakingly sweet story. While the two main characters are tied hip to hip, the production does its best to tie the audience heart to heart.
The strengths of Side Show lie in the depth of forethought that has clearly gone into this newly revised piece of musical theatre. Director Michael Weber revealed that he built a strong working relationship with lyricist Bill Russell, who even came from NYC to see the show. For audiences expecting to see the Side Show they fell in love with in the late 90’s, they will be pleased by some of the show’s most iconic numbers. However, as Russell indicated, he and composer Henry Kreiger rewrote at least 60% of the material for this revised production. More information on both the original and the revised versions of this musical may be read here.
Porchlight’s audiences are greeted by dramaturgy displays upon walking into the theatre that enlighten those curious about the truth behind the Hilton twin’s rise to fame in depression-era America. Additionally, much care is taken to cultivate the circus-like atmosphere, including circus tents fastened along the perimeters and pre-performance popcorn vendors. Weber’s intention to ensconce the audience in the sometimes-bleak-sometimes-glorious world of the circus clearly and effectively shapes the audience’s’ experience of the show. Thankfully, Weber takes risks throughout the show to tell the story of these two sisters, using unique lenses, even blocking one scene so that it is eerily performed in shadows behind a curtain.
Much credit to the show’s success goes to lighting designer Greg Freeman and Projection Designer Ross Hoppe. Freeman effectively balances the needs to light the actors functionally in such a tight space, yet also establish strong moods scene by scene. Throughout the show, Hoppe displays projected images along the circus tents, set pieces and other drapery about the entire theatre. The projections are an effective grouping of general images to establish the changing setting mixed with story-specific images that help to advance the plot. Audiences are sure to enjoy the hand-drawn circus-cartoon style of posters of Daisy and Violet, while also appreciate the images and color choices used to create 20th century London when the story suddenly jumps into a flashback.
The lights and tech for the production are effective and functional. The other production values, specifically the costumes for the other members of the side show, lack the imagination and creativity given to the rest of the show. Many of the “freak” costumes give the impression of freakishness, but don’t quite meet the bar for such an intimate venue. Nonetheless, audiences should look past this inequity in the production to bare witness to the overall themes. For example, the close of Act 1 includes a moment of the song, “Love Me as I Am” that features the entire sideshow cast. This simple yet effective choice, performed beautifully, awakens the universal yearning for acceptance that most everyone experiences in life.
The ensemble cast of this production sing powerfully as a group. The performers pour their energy into the score, which is delightfully filled with strong harmonies and soulful runs. Evan Tyrone Martin, as Jake, performs these runs with ease and energy. Even Veronica Garza’s portrayal of the Fortune Teller is filled with some surprisingly soul-inspired, belt-worthy moments.
The most touching, endearing and powerful performances come from—as they should—the dynamic duo of Colleen Fee and Britt-Marie Sivertsen as Daisy and Violet. These bright actresses shine, both individually as well as a pair, in these roles. They sell their identical similarities through their acting choices, their synchronicity, their affectation with one another. The costumes and wigs effectively do the rest to truly make us believe that these sisters are identical in nature. Their attention to their differences, and the nuance with which both actresses display these differences, is what really wins audience’s hearts. Additionally, their execution of choreographer Andrew Waters’ clever vaudeville numbers is charming.
Lastly, their powerful performances of “Love Me as I Am” and “I Will Never Leave You” spread chills up patrons’ arms and tears to their eyes. If for nothing else, go see this production to see the story of two intriguing women; both the duo that the story is written about and the duo of performers in this production will entertain and inspire.
“Side Show” is performing at at Stage773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave, until October 25 with performances on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $39 for Thursday performances and $45 for all other performances and are available in person at the box office, online here or by calling (773) 327-5252.