The lead roles of conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton in the musical "Side Show" are certainly among the most challenging in Broadway history.
The two actresses must simulate the twins' unfortunate "Siamese twins" connection without gimmicks, because the show includes dream sequences in which they separate. Without being physically connected at the hip, they must perform in unison and rely solely upon practice-makes-perfect closeness for the illusion.
"Staying attached to each other has been the most difficult thing ever!," exclaims Angela Jeffries, who plays Violet. "This might be the most physically difficult show I have ever done because of that. Even taking a single step can be difficult. It comes down to the tiniest movement. I never imagined it would be this hard."
"Angela and I knew it would be hard, but it's even harder than we expected," adds Adrien Swenson, who plays Daisy. "Because we aren't actually joined in the show in any way, standing, sitting, walking and especially dancing while keeping a constant connection is incredibly tricky. We started by tying ourselves together and doing simple tasks and have since graduated to anticipating the others' moves."
The singing pair of conjoined twins whose heartbreaking travails forge the center of "Side Show," a regional premiere produced by Utah Musical Theatre Company. The Tony-nominated musical plays Provo's Echo Theatre on Jan. 18-Feb. 2.
A unique tale of romance, fame and heartbreak, "Side Show" is actually based on the true story of conjoined Daisy and Violet Hilton who went from being a circus act to famous stage performers in the 1930s.
While Jeffries and Swenson recognize the challenge of playing the Hilton sisters, it has helped that they have been double cast in previous lead roles, not playing opposite each other but playing the same role on alternating nights - in the Hale Centre Theatre production of "A Tale of Two Cities" and "9 to 5."
Of their performances, John Sweeney, director of "9 to 5," said, "In terms of combination singer and actress, Adrien and Angela are two of the best in Utah today."
With the challenges of "Side Show" comes tremendous rewards. "This show is a vocalist's dream," says Jeffries. "I get to sing to the rafters, and I also get to sing alongside someone whose vocal talent consistently blows me away."
"I've always loved the duets from Side Show and have performed some in concerts and as audition pieces," adds Swenson. "But to have the opportunity to sing these songs with my peer and dear friend, that's priceless."
"Side Show" garnered numerous critical accolades and earned four Tony Award nominations in 1998, a tough season on Broadway with competition from "Ragtime," "The Lion King" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel." With music by "Dreamgirls" composer Henry Krieger, "Side Show" is seldom-performed despite being cultishly embraced by lovers of the genre.
"At their first audition, Adrien and Angela blew me away - their voices, look and chemistry with each other," says "Side Show" director Johnny Hebda. "Other members of the cast questioned at the first rehearsal if they were sisters or related. I could not be happier for a more talented and matching duo."
"'Side Show' is a story of courage and strength despite limitations," says Swenson. "Every audience member comes with a lifetime of struggles, successes, heartache and love, so this story has potential to touch every person in some way or another."
Echoing her, Jeffries says, "Aside from the beautiful music in the show, I think the message will really strike a heartstring with audiences. "These two beautiful women and their journey in this show represent those before us who must live with physical, mental and even emotional disabilities, whether seen by the eye or not."
"Everyone has felt alone at times or judged by others in some way," says Hebda. "The characters in 'Side Show' want love and acceptance, and they fear being alone or being judged for their imperfections. The show will challenge audiences to think and question whether or not they judge others or withhold love from someone else, whether it be a class mate, a neighbor or a relative, based on their choices, lifestyle, social status or appearance that might be different than themselves or uncomfortable."
Tickets to "Side Show" can be purchased at the company's website, http://utahmusicaltheatrecompany.com/purchase-tickets/.
"Side Show" runs Jan. 18-Feb. 2, at the Echo Theatre at 145 No. University Ave., ProvoProvo. Performances are Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and matinees at 2:00 p.m. on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students, seniors and children, and $8 for groups of 10 or more. Reduced-rate tickets to the performance on Monday, Jan. 21, are available during the company's Pay What You Will Night, making tickets affordable to all theatergoers.