‘Side Show’ is Broadway bound


Emily Padgett and Erin Davie as the Hilton sisters in “Side Show” at the Kennedy Center. (Joan Marcus)

“Side Show” has booked its return ticket to Broadway. The well-received Kennedy Center revival of the 1997 musical will begin performances Oct. 28 at the St. James Theatre, with an opening night set for Nov. 17, its producers announced on Wednesday.

The musical, about the personal and professional vicissitudes of Violet and Daisy Hilton, real-life Siamese twins who rose from a desultory life on carnival midways to vaudeville stardom, has consistently been a critical darling. That was underlined again this summer, when a retooled version of the Henry Krieger-Bill Russell musical, produced in the center’s Eisenhower Theater, garnered highly admiring notices.

But the show’s four-week run ending July 13 didn’t sell out in the 1,161-seat Eisenhower — not the most hopeful sign for a musical now moving for an open-ended run into a 1,710-seat behemoth, the St. James, one of the best (and among the bigger) musical houses on Broadway. (It’s where “The Producers” ran for six years, and where Woody Allen’s short-lived “Bullets Over Broadway” will soon close.) More cautionary evidence comes from the commercial failure of the original Broadway production. Starring Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner as the Hilton sisters, it ran for only 91 performances in late 1997-early 1998.

What this incarnation does have going for it is an eternally, hauntingly beautiful score by lyricist Russell and composer Krieger, the latter also responsible for the music of “Dreamgirls”; the magnetic performances of Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, inheritors of the starring roles, and a clever staging by director Bill Condon, who reconceived the carnival “freaks” populating the story as characters with authentic-looking disabilities and exotic conditions.

It remains to be seen whether these artistic assets will overcome whatever reservations — however ill-conceived — ticket buyers might entertain about the musical’s story and main characters. To draw a large audience on Broadway these days a musical has to take into account a show’s appeal to tourists, who make up two-thirds of the audience. According to conventional wisdom, these customers are more inclined to line up for shows with well-known stars or family-friendly material.

The Kennedy Center-produced “Side Show,” which had a tryout run at La Jolla Playhouse in California before its Washington engagement, is the third major musical revival to move from the center to Broadway in five years. “Ragtime” made a similar transfer in 2009, followed by “Follies” two years later. While each earned respectable-to-good reviews, neither cracked the code for financial success.

The institution, which also has on its fall docket a wholly original musical, “Little Dancer,” inspired by the Degas sculpture and with a score by “Ragtime’s” Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, is listed as one of several producers of the Broadway production of “Side Show,” whose lead producer is Darren Bagert. According to a report in the New York Times, the show is budgeted at about $7.5 million.

The announcement Wednesday mentioned only the casting of Davie, who plays Violet Hilton, and Padgett, who portrays Daisy. The Kennedy Center production featured Ryan Silverman, Matthew Hydzik, David St. Louis and Robert Joy in other prominent roles.

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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