nytheatre.com review by Nicholas Linnehan
September 3, 2011
The words “I will never leave you” never rang so true as when Daisy and Violet sing them in Bill Russell and Henry Kreiger's musical, Side Show. Daisy and Violet are Siamese twins, literally attached at the hip. They are part of a freak show when they get discovered by Buddy and Terry, who turn them into overnight sensations in vaudeville. Although the girls appear similar on the outside, they could not be more different on the inside. Violet dreams of normalcy—getting married and having a family—while Daisy dreams of fame. These girls are in an extraordinary situation, being Siamese twins, but their desires are ordinary and their pursuit of their dreams is something everyone can identify with. This is a classic case of “don't judge a book by its cover.”
From the moment Daisy and Violet walked out on stage I was mesmerized. Erin Krom (Daisy) and Nikki Van Cassele (Violet) are stunning. They have clearly defined their characters which helps us realize that these twins are definitely individual and unique. Both actresses manage to capture the essence of these girls and we instantly fall in love with them. When Alex Herrera (Buddy) and Joshua Dixon (Terry) discover Violet and Daisy, we feel the instant attraction between them. Yet there is always the constant reminder that this love is almost impossible given the girls' situation. Yet these characters battle insecurities and fears throughout the show that are both real and heart-wrenching. Dixon manages to convey the internal emotional hell that Terry faces in loving Daisy, but not being able to accept the package deal of Daisy and Violet. Similarly Van Cassele fully connects to the fear of being hurt and the reluctance to fall love. When Buddy proposes to Violet we are overjoyed. Yet this is sadly not a happily-ever-after.
Vincent McDowell, Jr. plays Jake, another performer in the freak show who follows the twins to vaudeville. We quickly realize that he is desperately in love with Violet. When he gets up the nerve to tell her, we hope against hope that they will connect. McDowell is a powerhouse and his performance is spectacular. When he sang the emotional ballad “You Should be Loved” there seemed not to be a single dry eye in the audience. Keep an eye on McDowell, as I am sure we will be seeing more of him.
My only qualms with the show, which are minimal, are the choreography and the lighting. The dancing seems to fall flat, probably because the stage is terribly overcrowded. It is such a big company and the playing area is too small to accommodate all the actors. As a result the dancing suffers. I think lighting designer Jenn Garner is trying to create a dark ominous world of fear, shadows and forbidden pleasures. While this concept certainly is in line with Side Show, it is so dark, especially during the opening number, that we lose much of what's going on. Perhaps a little more light would allow the audience to follow the story better.
Yet, these are minor setbacks. My two biggest questions are: why is this amazing show called Side Show? It is so good that it deserves to be renamed "Main Show." It is certainly not one to be put aside. And why is it at the “Secret” Theater? How can people go if it's a secret (and they should definitely go). In all seriousness, this production, directed by Brad Caswell, is fabulous, and challenges us to ask who are the real freaks—the Siamese twins or those of us who are too afraid to go after our dreams?