Side Show at the Echo Theatre in Provo is an engaging, poignant, and thought-provoking theatrical experience. The production is a fine debut for the newly christened Utah Repertory Theater Company (formerly the Utah Musical Theatre Company).
Side Show (book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger) is an underrated gem that was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 1998--a highly competitive year that included The Lion King, Ragtime, and The Scarlet Pimpernel as the other contenders. The musical tells the true story of the rise to fame of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton in the 1930s. It focuses on their personal lives, including their desires to find love and start families of their own.
Adrien Swenson and Angela Jeffries are perfection as Daisy and Violet, respectively. Their beautiful singing voices--two of the best in Utah--are both powerful and tender. The two women also act superbly; they express realistic emotion and differentiate their characters while maintaining the illusion that they are identical twins. They fortuitously bear an uncanny resemblance to one another--so much so that when they first appear it can take a moment to tell them apart.
Aleksndr Arteaga as Terry Connor, Taylor Eliason as Buddy Foster, and Cooper Howell as Jake all add great voices to the show. They each have crucial scenes and songs in which they shine.
The ensemble is talented overall but sometimes lacks the tightness that would be the hallmark of a professional production. The director/producer, Johnny Hebda, made the bold choice to have the "freaks" from the sideshow inhabit all the supporting roles. This concept is hit and miss due to a lack of cohesiveness and consistency in costuming and performance. Otherwise, the costumes by Dana Anquoe are well-designed and add a good sense of time and place.
Excitingly, Johnny Hebda has succeeded in creating the feeling that the audience is in attendance at an actual sideshow. This was achieved through the choice of the intimate venue, the simple abstract set that consists of mostly a curtain and posters of the "freaks," and the entertaining preshow of actual sideshow stunts.
Unfortunately, due to technical issues, the audience was left waiting outside in the cold until a half hour after the preshow was to begin while cast and crew prepped in the theatre. This provided a poor first impression that proved to be a disservice to the high quality of the production. In addition, there were a few distracting costume and prop malfunctions at the reviewed performance, but the collective strength of the production as a whole made up for anything lacking in the individual elements.
Regardless of any quibbles that could be made, Side Show is unequivocally worth the time, effort, and money to attend for any serious musical theatre fan in Utah. The story is intriguing, the characterizations welcome empathy, and the music is glorious. In addition, the chance to see Adrien Swenson and Angela Jeffries in these roles is not one to be missed.
Side Show plays at the Echo Theatre in Provo through February 2, 2013. To buy tickets and for more information, visit www.utahmusicaltheatrecompany.com.
Photo Credit: L-R, Adrien Swenson (Daisy Hilton) and Angela Jeffries (Violet Hilton). Photo by Alex Weisman.