Side Show

Updated February 11, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
Book and lyrics:Bill Russell
Music:Henry Krieger
Directed and Choreographed by:Robert Longbottom
Sets:Robin Wagner
Costumes:Gregg Barnes
Lighting:Brian MacDevitt
Sound:Tom Clark
Opened:10/97 at the Richard Rodgers Theater
Cast:Alice Ripley, Emily Skinner, Jeff McCarthy, Hugh Panaro, Norm Lewis and Ken Jennings

A musical about Siamese twins? But before you make cracks about choreography difficulties, this production ravishes as one of the season's best. Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley play the sisters attached-at-the-hip, characters based on the real-life Hilton twins who rose to vaudevillian fame in the '30s. A beguiling look at identity and celebrity, the show opens strongly with the effervescent ?Come Look at the Freaks.? The song invites gawkers to eye the parade of aberrants not just with curiosity but also with compassion and even admiration. Indeed, the adventurous, ambitious Daisy (Skinner) and the more reserved, domestic Violet (Ripley) inspire the age-old metaphorical musings about doppelgangers and shadow selves; yet a close look at these two women reveals a flurry of conflict both within and between them. They are two uncommon women with common desires to make it big and even marry. Skinner and Ripley both exude a Betty Grable lushness and the production, which is almost entirely sung, features miraculously choreographed dance routines, uplifting gospel songs and rock-inspired ballads. Beautifully realized secondary characters, such as Jennings as the demonic barker and Lewis as a black carnival worker, bring notable vitality to their solos. Never stooping to clichs about the divided self or risible grotesquerie, the astonishing Ripley and Skinner are nearly identical in appearance, moving as one and ironically bringing much individualism to their roles. Such a triumph should present quite a quandary for the Tony committee who may have to choose between the two.

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