Based on the true story of conjoined twins and famed entertainers Violet and Daisy Hilton, Side Show is a musical about acceptance, love and embracing one’s uniqueness. As the starring act of a sideshow, Violet and Daisy are are keen to escape their abusive guardian and ring master, Sir, and are drawn to accept an offer of fame, fortune, and potential romance proffered by Terry, a talent scout, and Buddy, a budding musician.
Director Amanda Rowe has assembled a stellar cast for this South Australian premiere. We are introduced to the sideshow by an imposing ‘Sir’ played by Scot Nell with the right amount of appeal, authority and an underlying menace. We meet the enthusiastic ensemble, universally convincing, who embodiy the range of distinctive characters considered ‘freaks’ in the period: a three legged man, a bearded lady, a pierced man and a tattooed lady to name a few. The rousing opening number shapes this into being a vocally strong show.
The star vehicles are clearly the conjoined twins, Violet and Daisy and in Bec Raymond and Fiona DeLaine respectively, we are blessed with two outstanding vocalists whose magnificent harmonies are matched by a depth of emotion that endears us to the girls from the outset. They capture the vulnerability and inner strength of these complex characters and display the attributes that bind the twins together far beyond their physical condition, as well as the traits that are discrete and serve to demonstrate their wildly differing personalities. Truly wonderful performances.
Another stand out performance comes from Paul Rodda as Terry, the smooth talking charmer who lures them away from the sideshow to a greater success on the vaudeville circuit. He is well supported by Jared Frost as Buddy who is tasked with honing the girls singing and dancing skills. This reviewer was pleased to see Ray Cullen as Ray/Houdini, suggested to be Buddy’s secret love interest. Last seen in Adelaide Youth Theatre’s Shrek, he impressed then as now with his significant stage presence and emerging vocal skill. His character, coupled with that of Jake, Omkar Nagesh, who’s love for Violet remains unrequited despite his obvious devotion and their strong friendship, indicate how race and homosexuality were considered in the 1930’s to be afflictions that isolated those affected in the same way as the sisters or their ‘freak’ colleagues.
With the recent success of the film The Greatest Showman, Hills have utilised the fascination with that musical in their lead up publicity, suggesting this show paints a truer picture of how these individuals and those they represent would have been treated in the day. But that’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom. What it shares with the film is the common bond and indomitable spirit that is uplifting and inspiring to behold. The music ranges from stirring ensemble numbers to powerful ballads, well written and well executed by the band under the expert guidance of Musical Director Mark De Laine.
I cannot omit mentioning the simple but effective set by David Lampard which worked well on the relatively small stage, although the number of short scenes in the second act made the constant changing of the set a little distracting. Make up and effects by Vanessa Shirley are also superb.
Community theatre at it’s best, don’t miss this one.