Some shows you watch as a disinterested observer. It is the rare show where the power of the music and the power of the acting combine to get into you, to touch your soul, and to leave you thinking about deeper meanings. It is even rarer when such a show is a student performance. Last night, we saw the final performance of such a show… “Side Show”, the final student performance of the year from the UCLA Theatre Arts Department. This production was funded through the UCLA Ray Bolger Musical Theater Program.
“Side Show” tells the story of the Hilton twins, Daisy and Violet. The presented story closely parallels the real life of the twins. The show opens at a Texas sideshow where the twins are the featured attraction. Spotted by a talent broker, the twins are soon encouraged to leave the show for a chance at vaudeville. They do, and succeed quite well in the show biz. But love, as always, gets in the way, for the twins fall in love with the talent broker and their agent. The love isn’t always returned, for the men have trouble accepting the issues of getting two-for-one. Violet is loved by Jake, another sideshow performer who comes with them as their protector, but she doesn’t return it, unable to accept loving a black man. The climax of the show is the wedding of Violet to her talent broker at the Texas Centennial, at which the true nature of all the relationships are revealed. The marriage goes through anyway, but no one is happy. The show closes with the sisters realizing that the only people they truely have are each other.
There are many aspects here to explore, so let’s start with the story (book and lyrics by Bill Russell, music by Henry Krieger (who also did “Dreamgirls”)). The story raises the question of what is a “freak”, and how society treats them. Far too often, freaks are judged by looks and not the inner person. In the case of the Hilton Sisters, we had two beautiful young ladies, who do to their deformity were classified as freak first. The show also touched on the issue of acceptance, and how and why we accept people. This is a big issue in Kreiger musicals (look at the acceptance question, based on looks, of Effie in Dreamgirls). In this case, we had someone who could accept the twins as they were, coming from the same mileau (Jake), but they could not accept him… again, based on looks (black vs. white). Acceptance is something we all crave, on our terms. The show says it quite well:
Like a fish plucked from the ocean
Tossed into a foreign stream
Always knew that I was different
Often fled into a dream
I ignored the raging currents
Right against the tide I swam
But I floated with the question
Who will love me as I am?
Lastly, the show raised the question of whether we are ever alone. In the case of Daisy and Violet, they couldn’t move forward until they accepted that they were never alone spiritually in addition to physically: that each twin was there for the other, as they sing:
We were meant to share each moment
Beside you is where I will stay
Evermore and always
We’ll be one though we’re two
for I will never leave you
In reality, aren’t we all twins, with that inner strength we forget we have that is always with us? If you would like a taste of the music, here is a performance by the original actresses
at the 52nd
This performance was made even better by the talented cast and crew, all of whom were members of the UCLA Theatre Department, and all of whom (to my understanding) were undergraduates. Further, according to the article on the show by the Daily Bruin, the production process officially began in January with the directors and designers meeting. Auditions were not held until after spring break, and the cast had only nine weeks to rehearse and prepare for the performance. They also physically connected the lead actresses for the role, something that was not done on Broadway.
Starring in the production as Daisy and Violet Hilton were Melisa De Seguirant and Grace Wall (both third-year theatre students). Both were remarkable: great singers, great dancers… but what got to me more were their facial expressions. Even thought we were in a 100 seat theatre, I had to pull out the binoculars just to look at their fantastic and expressive faces. They made the characters come alive; they inhabited these twins. I hope these beautiful young ladies go far.
[Note: The picture was snarfed from the Daily Bruin article.]
Joe Bettles co-stars as Terry, the twins’ agent who is loved by Daisy, but can never let himself express that love publically because he thinks it isn’t normal. Jimmy Lambert co-stars as Buddy, the talent scout who finds the twins and initially wins Violet’s heart… and eventually marries here, although he can’t love her as she wants to be loved. The third man in the life of the girls is Jake, played by Ryan Castellino. All three of these men gave powerful performances.
Supporting the principles were the inhabitants of the side show, who played various other unnamed roles through the show. These included Adam Cohen (The Boss/Tod Browning), Kerry Watson (Fortune Teller), Daniel Becker (Roustabout), Caitlin Beitel (Harem Girl), Kaitlyn Daley (Snake Lady), Emma Hawley (Half Man/Half Woman), Mrk Krey (Geek), D’Angelo Lacy (Roustabout), Jamison Lingle (Harem Girl), Patrick Logothetti (Reptile Man), Nathan J. Longdon (Sheik), Lauren Okida (Harem Girl), Brian Pugach (Roustabout), Jacob Silva (Roustabout), Tony SIlva (Fakir), and Naomi Segert Tauger (Bearded Lady). The production was directed by Nicholas Gunn, with musical direction by Dan Belzer, vocal direction by Jeremy Mann, and choreography by Christine Kellogg. The scenery was designed by Tesshi Nakagawa, lighting by Neil Jampolis, costumes by Leighton Aycock, and sound by Jon Gottlieb. Stage management was by Bonnie Anderson. The production was managed by Jeff Wachtel. All aspects of the production were supurbly exectued by students enrolled in the UCLA Department of Theatre.
Alas, the production we saw was the final performance, although the audio was recorded and will be used during the Theatre Department’s graduation in a few weeks. We were impressed with the program, and are curious what they will come up with next year. Speaking of student theatre, I’ll note that the CSUN Theatre Arts department has announced their 07-08 season, and one of the productions will be “Tommy! The Rock Opera”, currently scheduled for Apr 4-6, 9-13, 2008 (if they can get the rights).
What’s next for us? P-U-T-N-A-M. That’s right, we’re seeing “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” through Broadway/LA on 6/16 @ 2pm. We’re on vacation the end of June in Nashville, and when we return, it is “Jersey Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre on 7/15 @ 7:30pm; “Can-Can” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 7/28 at 8:00pm; “Beauty and the Beast” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 8/4 @ 2:00pm, and the DCI 2007 World Championship Finals in Pasadena on 8/11 @ 5:00pm . I’ve also ordered season tickets for the Ahmanson, as discussed here, and there’s likely to be a Hollywood Bowl show in there somewhere.