Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Flops!" - SIDE SHOW

#1 in my Flop Musical Series

I thought I'd start an ongoing series of posts about Flop musicals.  Flops are basically musicals that didn't run that long on Broadway- less than 6 months or so - but have taken on somewhat of a cult status. This is mainly due to the score of the show having some great songs or the original production having great performances or production elements. But, mainly it's all about having some great songs that people feel shouldn't be forgotten.

First up is SIDE SHOW - I saw this show 3 or 4 times during it's 3 month Broadway run at the end of 1997.  Obviously there was something about the show that made me return so many times.  The score, the cast and the way the story was told all spoke to me and made we want to return.  The shows tells the true story about the Siamese Twins Daisy and Violet Hilton.   They started out performing in various sideshows in the 1930's, but after being discovered by a talent scout, rose to playing Vaudeville and even bigger venues.  The show documents this along with the backstage drama and romantic relationships that the twins encountered along the way .  The show is only partially accurate to the actual life of Daisy and Violet - they did play in side shows before moving to Vaudeville, but a lot of the rest of the story is made up - though it does show the offer the twins got to basically play themselves in "Freaks," the 1932 cult film by Todd Browning.  

The show has book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Henry Kreiger.   Kreiger wrote the score for another very famous musical documenting the rise to fame and backstage drama - DREAMGIRLS. 

The original Broadway cast included Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner as Violet and Daisy, Jeff McCarthy as Terry, the agent, Hugh Panaro as Buddy, who helps them with their singing and dancing and Norm Lewis as Jake, the African American side show worker who is secretly in love with Violet.

The staging of the show was done in a way that the show was book-ended with opening and closing sequences representing the actors in the show wearing non-specific costumes and playing non-specific characters, and the entire middle section the story of Daisy and Violet.  It served as a sort of commentary on the action and the desire we all have to see oddities or things like car crashes - our overall desire to "Come Look at the Freaks."   The other interesting production element was that Alice and Emily appeared to be "conjoined" throughout the show, even though there was no trickery in any of their costumes or on their persons to make them actually be "attached" to each other - they just stood very close to each other and always moved in unison to give the illusion they were conjoined.  In the beginning and ending sequences they appeared separated but the rest of the show, except for one song, they are always together - and you quickly realize what being attached to someone must be like -and how huge the issue of never being able to be alone is.  The ending of the show- when they separate - is one of those really theatrical moments that I'll never forget -as you truly believed they were attached by that point in the show. The last few moments of the show have the two of them turn to look at each other and then simply step away from the other person and you could hear gasps in the audience as these two became individuals again, that is how well the illusion of them being attached to each other was.
Jeff McCarthy, Emily Skinner, Alice Ripley and Hugh Panaro
I believe the main reason this show was not successful was that the title alone was a little off-putting and it was a hard show to market.  Word of mouth was high but you have to remember that this show opened just 4 weeks before THE LION KING -which quickly became a press and audience favorite.  So, a little hard to market show like SIDE SHOW limped along for a few weeks and closed on January 4, 1998.

Fortunately the 5 main cast members have all gone on to become top Broadway leads- Alice won a Tony for Lead Actress in a Musical for NEXT TO NORMAL, Hugh is one of the longest running men to play "The Phantom" in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, Norm just played "Javert" in the LES MISERABLES 25th anniversary concert, Emily is currently starring in BILLY ELLIOT on Broadway and Jeff just returned as "Billy Flynn" in CHICAGO on Broadway this week.

There was news that the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York presented a workshop production of a revised version of the show last year.  But no more details have come out about that workshop and it was an "invitation only" event, so it isn't like you could buy tickets for it.

My favorite songs from this show are "Who Will Love Me As I Am?,"Tunnel of Love," "I Will Never Leave You," and "We Share Everything."

Amazon link for the Original Broadway Cast Recording ---Side Show (1997 Original Broadway Cast)

Amazon link for the script of SIDE SHOW - Side Show

Amazon link for the dvd of "Freaks" (in a 4 film compilation including some other great Horror movies)- TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Horror (House of Wax 1953 / The Haunting 1963 / Freaks / Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1941)

Here is the performance of "I Will Never Leave You" from the Tony Awards.

Here Alice and Emily sing "Who Will Love Me as I Am"  on the Rosie O'Donnell show...

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