“Side Show” Opens on Broadway

Daisy and Violet Hilton Take Center Stage

side showOn 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. side show erin davie emily padgettMelissa 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.

“Side Show” Begins Previews on Broadway

Come Look At The Freaks

side showOn October 28, 2014, Side Show began previews at Broadway’s St. James Theatre. Official opening night is scheduled for November 17, 2014. This spectacle-filled musical about a freak show in the 1930s premiered on Broadway in 1997, running less than 4 months before it flopped and had to close. This revival, however, has taken a different approach. Whereas the earlier advertising campaign had an old-fashioned picture of a 1930s side show with audience members eagerly wondering what lay on the other side of the curtain, in 2014 the producers have decided to up the Hollywood lights and portray the leading ladies – Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton – more like Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart in Chicago, except conjoined. In fact, Side Show is based off a true story of real Siamese twin circus performers Daisy and Violet Hilton, who were also the subject of the 1932 pseudo-documentary film Freaks. The 1997 premiere, though closing early, earned four Tony Award nominations including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Score, and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Alice Ripley as Violet), although it failed to win any. Nevertheless, the musical has gained somewhat of a cult status since its original production, enough to warrant a glitzy revival.

Cast and Creative Teamside show erin davie emily padgett

The musical has book and lyrics by Bill Russell (Call Me Madam, The Last Smoker in America) and music by Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls, The Tap Dance Kid). This production is directed by Bill Condon (Chicago the film, Dreamgirls the film, the Twilight film series), who also contributed new material to the revival. Reportedly, the revised book focuses more on the principal storyline of the sisters searching for love in a world apparently set against them, and less on the supporting characters of the various freak show performers. The lead roles of Daisy and Violet Hilton are respectively played by Emily Padgett (Rock of Ages, Grease, Legally Blonde) and Erin Davie (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, A Little Night Music). Other cast members include Matthew Hydzik (West Side Story, Grease) as Buddy Foster, Robert Joy (Abe Lincoln in Illinois) as Sir, Ryan Silverman (Cry-Baby, Chicago) as Terry, David St. Louis (Jesus Christ Superstar, The Scarlet Pimpernel) as Jake, and many ensemble members playing multiple roles including other performers in the freak show.

The 2014 Revival

This updated production of Side Show had two pre-Broadway tryouts. From November 5, 2013 to December 15, 2013, the show ran at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California, directed by Bill Condon and starring Erin Davie and Emily Padgett. Then, from June 14, 2014 to July 13, 2014, the same production with the same leading ladies played at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. These two productions were successful enough to attract the attention of Broadway producer Darren Bagert, who assembled the producing team to raise the $7.8 million capitalization needed to bring this show to Broadway. Although the 1997 production quickly flopped, there may be more hope for this revival. First of all, freak shows have recently re-entered the zeitgeist, thanks to shows such as American Horror Story: Freak Show. Furthermore, this musical is so little known due to its previous failure that it may actually have the chance to reinvent itself anew in the minds of theatregoers. The verdict will be more determinable after reviews come out following the opening night of November 17, 2014.

“Bullets Over Broadway” Closes

An All-Star Team Leads to Naught

bullets over broadway the musicalOn August 24, 2014, the new musical Bullets over Broadway played its last performance at the St. James Theatre.  Highly anticipated upon its start of previews on March 11, 2014, the musical disappointed when the reviews came out after its opening night of April 10, 2014.  This show is based off the 1994 film of the same name by Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath.  The musical book was written by Woody Allen, and the score is made up of songs from the 1920s orchestrated by Doug Besterman.  The show was directed and choreographed by the very successful Susan Stroman (The Producers).  Nevertheless, despite this powerful team of proven talents, the show was a quick flop.  The cast featured Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs) in his Broadway debut, alongside Marin Mazzie, Nick Cordero, Karen Ziemba, Vincent Pastore, and Brooks Ashmanskas.

A Serious Financial Loss

With a budget of $14 million, the show is sure to close at a significant financial loss.  The musical only played 33 preview bullets over broadway dance numberperformances and 156 regular performances, which is much less than would have been needed to recoup that large investment.  Due to mixed reviews in a season with a slew of competing large-scale musicals, the box office sales never got off the ground.  Its highest numbers were earned in the weeks shortly after the show’s official opening, when reviews spurred word of mouth.  In those weeks, the grosses inched towards the million dollar mark without ever reaching it; the highest weekly gross was $974,076 in the week ending April 20, 2014.  With a few more scattered weeks in the $800,000 and $900,000 range, the show’s numbers have been seriously tapering off in recent weeks.  All throughout July and August, the show has struggled to maintain a gross as high as $650,000.  It even reached the supremely low gross of $492,009 in the week ending July 6, 2014.  Therefore, on July 22, 2014, the producers announced that the show would be closing on August 24th.

Awards and Storyline

The show received six Tony Award nominations, but failed to win any.  They were those for Best Book of a Musical for Woody Allen, Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Nick Cordero, Best Scenic Design of a Musical for Santo Loquasto, Best Costume Design of a Musical for William Ivey Long, Best Choreography for Susan Stroman, and Best Orchestrations for Doug Besterman.  However, those nominations may have been more of a nod for the producers, as there was certainly a lot of hype going into this spring season, although none of it came to muster.  The story involves the world of theatre in the 1920s, as a playwright named David Shayne is finally getting his first play produced on Broadway.  A wealthy gangster who is financing the show wants his girlfriend to play the lead, and her dim-witted bodyguard comes up with some good ideas to improve the script.  Unfortunately, it appears that the antics of the earlier generations of theatre were not enough to entice a theatergoing audience, who are underwhelmed by farce and look for more original forms of entertainment.

“Bullets Over Broadway” Opens at the St. James Theatre

Bullets over Broadway, the new musical based off the 1994 film of the same name, opened on April 10, 2014 at Broadway’s St. James Theatre.  With a book by Woody Allen based on the screenplay he wrote along with Douglas McGrath, the musical is directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman.  The story is a fitting one for Broadway, as it tells of a young playwright in 1929 named David Shayne who is desperately trying to get his first Broadway production.  In order to secure financing for the play, he agrees to hire the girlfriend of a gangster, in exchange for that gangster backing the production.  The actress’ gangster escort turns out to be a genius contributor to revising the play, but soon David is pretending that those ideas are his own.  Bad turns to worse, as David begins cheating on his girlfriend with the alcoholic leading lady, and the leading man, who is also a compulsive eater, begins to eye the gangster’s girlfriend.

The cast is led by actor-writer Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs) as David Shayne.  Though this is Braff’s Broadway debut, he is a familiar face on the Off-Broadway scene, not only as an actor but also as playwright; his play All New People played at New York’s Second Stage Theatre in 2011.  The cast bullets over broadway the musicalof Bullets over Broadway also includes Marin Mazzie as the leading lady Helen Sinclair, Helene Yorke as the gangster’s girlfriend Olive, and Nick Cordero as her escort Cheech.  Of all these actors, however, only Nick Cordero received a Tony nomination, for the category of Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

In total, the musical received six Tony Award nominations, also including those for Best Book of a Musical for Woody Allen, Best Scenic Design for Santo Loquasto, Best Costume Design for William Ivey Long, Best Choreography for Susan Stroman, and Best Orchestrations for Doug Besterman.  This may be considered a disappointment compared to what some theatre industry watchers were expecting, as the musical failed to be nominated in any of the major categories, such as Best New Musical, Best Director, or Best Score.  Furthermore, it is interesting to note that Woody Allen, for his first ever Tony nomination, will be competing against Douglas McGrath, who wrote the book for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and who also co-wrote the screenplay for the film Bullets over Broadway.

However, the biggest disappointment is that the musical received fairly negative reviews.  Ben Brantley of The New York Times called it “occasionally funny but mostly just loud.”  Ending his review on a perhaps prophetic note, Brantley then suggested that the authenticity-seeking Cheech take over direction of the musical, and the Tony nominating committee seemed to agrbullets over broadway dance numberee that this performance was one of the best things going for the show.  Furthermore, Marilyn Stasio of Variety remarked how the script was surprisingly few on laughs, and that several of the big dance numbers fall flat, most notably “The Hot Dog Song.”  The Hollywood Reporter also disliked the show, comparing it to a “watered-down champagne cocktail.”  Only NBC New York seemed to like it, even going so far as to call it the best new musical on Broadway this season.  Too bad the Tony committee did not agree.

Financially, the show has been staying afloat, if not exceedingly well.  In the week ending April 27, 2014, it grossed $956,227, and it did even a little bit better in the week preceding that.  In the first few weeks of performances, it did numbers in the 700 to 800,000 dollar range, which is still fairly decent.  Its audience capacity has been flitting between 86 to 92 percent, with an average ticket price around 70 or 80 dollars, which shows a normal amount of discounting for a show still trying to hit its stride.  All in all, the name value of this title will certainly help it find its audience, and the star power of Zach Braff shouldn’t hurt.  Still, with mediocre reviews and minimal Tony recognition, this musical may not ever become the hit that its producers hoped it would.

Bring It On: The Musical Opens at the St. James Theatre Tonight

Get out your pom-poms … Bring It On: The Musical opens at the St. James Theatre tonight. Inspired by the competitive cheerleading movie Bring It On, which has something of a reputation as a campy cult favorite, Bring It On: The Musical is playing a very limited run on Broadway, with an expected closing date of October 7. Technically Broadway is just a stop on the show’s national tour, which began in Los Angeles last autumn.

The main draw of Bring It On is the fact that–unlike your average Broadway musical–it showcases some pretty impressive gymnastics. Real-life competitive cheerleaders are featured in the cast, showing off the kind of high-flying moves that are rarely seen outside of a cheerleading competition.

Bring It On: The Musical has a book by Avenue Q‘s aptly named Jeff Whitty and choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler. Two Tony Award-winning composers, Tom Kitt (Next To Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), supply the music, with Miranda and Amanda Green contributing the lyrics.