REVIEW: Side Show - 2014 Broadway Revival Cast

Recording CoverFor those of us who grew up with the 1997 original cast recording of the cult musical Side Show, the rich score by Henry Krieger and Bill Russell combined with the Tony-nominated performances of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner left us wondering how this fascinating show about real-life Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton could have failed. Now, seventeen years later, Side Show has been reborn and rethought for a new generation under the watchful direction of film director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls). While this revival played as short a run on Broadway as did its original incarnation—perhaps Siamese twins just can’t find an audience—the winning musicality of this new cast recording reinforces just why this show has so many adoring fans.

The two albums of course can’t help but call out for comparison, but such a task is made rather difficult as the 2014 version is more “revisal” than “revival.” There are eleven new songs, many changed lyrics to old numbers, and a great deal of musical tinkering. Is this a better show than its predecessor? Hard to say. Some of the new numbers like “Very Well Connected” and a long flashback sequence that gives the twins some new backstory aren’t particularly memorable. (An exception is a gorgeous song for Harry Houdini of all people who teaches the girls how to live “All in the Mind,” beautifully performed by Javier Ignacio.) The girls get some wonderfully fun new performance numbers including “Typical Girls Next Door” and “Stuck on You” as they go from freak show hicks to dazzling stars of the stage, a progression that is sharply musically orchestrated by Harold Wheeler (who performed similar duties for the 1997 production).

Of course the pressing question on everyone’s mind is, how do new headliners Emily Padgett (Daisy) and Erin Davie (Violet) compare with their predecessors (Skinner and Ripley, respectively)? The new duo are as compelling on disc as they were on stage, movingly inhabiting the lives of these physically united sisters complete with the score’s trademark scintillating vocal arrangements. They are indeed a winning pair of performers, yet if there is a criticism to be made, and not one for which Padgett or Davie are at fault, the two actresses, unlike their predecessors, often sound quite alike. While this makes for gorgeous harmonies between the two, they at times lack the thrilling quality of contrast that Skinner and Ripley brought to their roles on the original album.

While’s there’s no question that Padgett and Davie are the stars of this Side Show, what’s pleasantly surprising is just how rich the supporting cast is; in fact, it’s their performances which really make this album a must have. David St. Louis is mesmerizing as Jake, the African American freak show performer who’s in love with Violet. He hits it out of the park with his two big solos “The Devil You Know” and “You Should Be Loved.” Equally stellar is Ryan Silverman as producer Terry Connor who wants to make the girls into stars. He shines throughout the score but his “Private Conversation” is truly a highlight. Even individual chorus members are given their chance in the spotlight as each “freak” is much more individuated in this production than in the original.

While the 1997 version of Side Show won’t lose its place of honor anytime soon, this new recording is a must for fans of the musical, capturing some great performers interpreting a plethora of new material that makes this revival truly into a brand-new show worth listening to.


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