Daisy and Violet Hilton Take Center Stage
On November 17, 2014, Side Show opened at the St. James Theatre, following 21 preview performances that began on October 28, 2014. This musical with book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls) was first produced on Broadway in 1997. At the time, the show was not a big success; in fact, it closed after only 91 performances. Though this 2014 revival has not yet made it to 91, chances are that it will last at least until then. A few things are different about this production than the original. First of all, the marketing campaign is much more elegant and flashy, whereas the earlier production utilized a kitschy circus design. Secondly, the actual book of the musical was revised along with the director Bill Condon for this new production, which began at the La Jolla Playhouse in late 2013 prior to the Broadway transfer. The new book takes a darker approach, going more into the details of the real-life Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, on whom the musical is based. Finally, several new songs were incorporated such as “Cut Them Apart” sung by a group of English doctors in a flashback, as well as “All in the Mind” which is a lesson taught to the girls by Harry Houdini. In addition, the ladies’ big performance number is a new song entitled “Ready to Play.”
The Reviews are In, and Critics are Mixed
Whereas most reviewers commended this “revisal” for its improvement on the original, still many critics were not sold on the piece. Melissa Rose Bernardo of Entertainment Weekly found this production to be leaden and only occasionally moving, claiming it is highly dissimilar from the original. Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News praised the show for its delightfully off-beat topic, commendable lead performances, and evocative design, but still criticized it for its thin characters and inconsistent plot. David Cote of Time Out New York found the production to be excellent, praising director Bill Condon and lead actresses Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, but still could not get over the feeling that the show itself is second rate. Still, Charles Isherwood of The New York Times was astounded by the show as well as the production, believing it to be a timely revival in this era welcoming to freaks, and feeling moved by the complexity of the storyline. David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter was equally impressed, calling the show fresh and exotic.
Box Office Unfazed by Reviews
It appears that those interested in buying tickets to Side Show are not very interested in reading reviews, or at least they are not judging their decision to attend this show based on reviews. Since the show began previews, both before and after the reviews came out, the numbers have barely fluctuated at all. In the most recent reported week, the week ending December 7, 2014, the show brought in $483,252, only slightly higher from the figures in the first full eight performance week ending November 16, 2014, which brought in $449,747. In the week immediately after reviews came out, the week ending November 23, 2014, the show actually experienced its first slight decline in sales from the week prior, which must have been a significant disappointment to the producers, who are always eagerly awaiting the post-opening box office report. That week, the show brought in $419,203, representing 40.59% of the gross potential. The goes to show that the musical is only holding a mild attraction for theatregoers, who are not affected by the critical response.