September 1, 2018
Daisy and Violet Hilton were a pair of twins conjoined at the hip. They were the star attractions of Sir's sideshow of freaks, which also included the Bearded Lady, the Dog Boy, the 3-Legged Man, Cannibal King among others. One day, talent scout Terry Connor and his musician friend Buddy Foster chanced upon their sideshow, and heard the twins sing. Realizing that he had hit upon a goldmine, Terry wanted to take the twins out of the sideshow and bring them to vaudeville.
I had never heard of "Side Show" before Atlantis came out with their social media ads about their latest offering. Apparently this show by Bill Russell (book and lyrics) and Henry Krieger (music) had been around since 1997 when it first opened in Broadway. It had a more recent revival in Broadway in 2014. Daisy and Violet Hilton (1908-1969) were actually real people, a pair of twins attached at their pelvises (but shared no vital organs) who embarked on a vaudeville entertainment career during the 1930s.
The first technical aspects of the show that will catch your attention are the colorfully bizarre costumes (designed by Odelon Simpao) and transformative makeup (by Johann dela Fuente) of the 'freaks". Some "freaks", like Lizard Man and Geek, wore prosthetics designed by Bibo Reyes, showing off his other artistic talents aside from acting and singing (most recently in "Ang Huling El Bimbo". The sets designed by Lawyn Cruz are enhanced by the lighting design of Jonjon Villareal. Farley Asuncion is the musical director, leading the band providing the live accompaniment.
The different "twinning" outfits worn by Daisy and Violet throughout the show looked beautiful, especially the gold ball gowns they wore at the New Year's Eve Ball. If you look closely though (and I'm sure you will), the clothes (especially those red pants) did not look like they were specifically designed to be worn by conjoined twins, but for separate girls pretending to be conjoined. The performances of the actresses though would later make this minor observation moot.
The more outspoken liberated twin Daisy is played by Gab Pangilinan. The more reserved introverted twin Violet is played by Kayla Rivera. Their joint performance as the Hilton sisters walking together, jumping together, dancing together was an amazing feat. They had to be in perfect timing with each other all the time so that their pelvises will not separate and ruin the illusion of being conjoined.
When they raise their voices in song, the resulting harmonies were heavenly. Both girls can hit the high notes and the low notes so they can sing either melody or second voice interchangeably. They had several spot numbers together, the best and most memorable of which are "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" the showstopping finale of Act 1, and "I Will Never Leave You," the dramatic climax of Act 2.
Markki Stroem played Terry Connor. He was effective as a glib disarming salesman who had no trouble getting the girls interested in his ambitious proposal. Stroem's singing was also pushed to falsetto limits here, and he did very well in that department too, in songs like "Very Well Connected" and "A Private Conversation".
David Ezra played Buddy Foster, a talented perfectionist song and dance man. Compared to previous roles I had seen Ezra play, Buddy has got to be the one where he was smiling the most. His tenor vocals were faultless as expected in numbers like "Stuck with You" and "One Plus One Equals Three," which also showcased his terpsichorean skills as well.
Arman Ferrer played Jake, the Cannibal Man, a shadowy character who mostly stood in the background. He had genuine concern for the girls, especially Violet. His deep rich singing voice was ideal for the this dark mysterious man, heard in songs like "The Devil You Know," and "You Should Be Loved," his love ballad duet with Violet.
Wency Cornejo makes his stage debut as the character Sir, the girls' sleazy guardian and sadistic manager. He's got that leery look down pat, giving everyone a creepy feel when he was onstage. He was the character who opened the show with his welcome spiel and his introductory song "Come Look at the Freaks."
Three members of the ensemble also got featured roles. Tim Pavino was Harry Houdini as part of the girls' "Flashback" number. Luis Marcelo was Rick in the two vaudeville numbers of Buddy and the girls. Ring Antonio got to showcase her soulful vocals as Fortune Teller and the girls' Auntie who raised them when they were abandoned as infants.
Earlier this year, the sleeper hit musical film "The Greatest Showman" refamiliarized us with the circus sideshow. With "Side Show," these legendary sideshow attractions come to life in front of our very eyes. Director Steven Conde successfully brought all the various elements together to make an entertaining and engaging show, even for people like me who knew nothing about the show nor its songs prior to watching. Gab Pangilinan and Kayla Rivera will surely enchant you as Daisy and Violet to guarantee your ticket is worth its price.
"Side Show" plays at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium of the RCBC Plaza in Makati from August 31 to September 23, 2018. Show times are 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, with 2 pm matinees on Sundays. Tickets are selling at ₱4,000, ₱3,000 and ₱2,000 via Ticketworld.