“Side Show” – Nearly Naked Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ May 27, 2013


Nearly Naked Theatre, The Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

The musical “Side Show” explodes from its vibrant opening as it tells with sophisticated realism and touching poignancy the fascinating story of Siamese twin performers Daisy and Violet Hilton.  The first local production is the best thing Nearly Naked Theatre has ever done with a superb Damon Dering directed production and an outstanding cast that tackle difficult and complex roles with sincerity and conviction.

“Side Show” wasn’t a hit when it premiered on Broadway in 1997 even with positive reviews.  Perhaps the myriad of professional and personal challenges that confronted the Hilton sisters proved too much for a Broadway musical.

The show’s book, excellently conceived by Bill Russell, tells about the twin’s rise to stardom even though they started as “freak” show entertainers.  It explores the pair with great compassion by explaining how they became successful entertainers but how neither ever achieved personal happiness.  The touching story is enhanced by Henry Krieger’s masterful score and Dering’s impeccably staged production that includes the splash and sparkle of a real circus as the story unfolds.

To be successful, a “Side Show” production must make the plot gripping, the characterizations, especially Daisy and Violet, believable, never stoop to maudlin melodrama, while always possessing the dazzle of a circus.  Dering’s production succeeds on every level.

Not only is the local staging artful, the production design aides in seamless transitions between the many scenes.  Lighting splashes the stage with the sparkle of a real circus while the costumes help the audience understand how each character fits into the complicated story.  Mark 4Man’s triumphant musical direction is artful.

But no “Side Show” staging can succeed without the perfect cast.  Hannah Zieser’s Daisy and Cassie Chilton’s Violet are both impeccable from superb acting to robust singing.  They are constantly together but each creates a different underlying personality for the sister they portray.  Drew Swaine’s Buddy, an aspiring musician who helps the twin’s become stars, couldn’t be better as is Thomas Strawser’s Terry, the producer who ensures the twin’s success.  Colin Ross’ is perfection as the side show’s Cannibal King who befriends and protects Daisy and Violet.  Terre Steed’s slimy and ruthless The Boss uses the twin’s to make his side show successful.  In “Side Show” the chorus plays the circus freaks and each ensemble member delivers fully realized characters.

“Side Show” is the best thing Nearly Naked Theatre has ever staged.  It tops many Broadway touring productions that stop here.  “Side Show” plays through June 8.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151.

Grade: A

One Response to ““Side Show” – Nearly Naked Theatre”

  1. Anne Till said:

    Jun 12, 13 at 23:17

    Thanks for your review. I read it and as a result, saw the production on the final night. Completely agree with your review.