The talk in recent days about a possible move to Broadway of the Kennedy Center’s “Side Show” is gratifying and exciting. But it also has to give pause to anyone who loves this terrific production, directed by Bill Condon. The question simply must be posed: Given its dismal commercial pedigree, does this complex, deeply affecting musical stand a chance in a marketplace driven more than ever before by brand name properties and hit-seeking tourists?
Discussions over the last week with people involved or familiar with some of the negotiations over the show indicate the commercial producer attached to the production, Darren Bagert, has an eye on Broadway’s highly coveted St. James Theatre, where the critically lambasted (and, in the theater industry, deeply disliked) “Bullets Over Broadway” is sputtering. In the latest weekly figures compiled by the trade group the Broadway League, Woody Allen’s show, directed by Susan Stroman, sold only 51 percent of its seats.
No one involved in “Side Show” is talking for the record, but the production has retained a New York press agent; the New York Times posted a short piece about the potential transfer on Thursday. Some with knowledge of the show’s circumstances say a transfer would have to occur sooner rather than later, partly because Condon has film commitments.
In a just world, Henry Krieger and Bill Russell’s revamped musical, the story of the private and show business lives of real-life Siamese twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, would find a secure foothold in the fall season on Broadway. It should be remembered, however, that despite excellent reviews and a small, enthusiastic following among musical-theater lovers, the original 1997 version, directed by Robert Longbottom, tanked on Broadway after only 91 performances. And this was at a time when tourists were not quite the dominant economic force they are today on Broadway, where they now buy 2 out of every 3 tickets.
Perhaps, though, the estimable Broadway successes of subsequent offbeat musicals like “Spring Awakening” and “Next to Normal” mean that there is still a slot or two for a sharp, thinking-person’s musical. One can only hope that if Bagert and his co-producers move forward, they augment “Side Show’s” superb cast with a truly stellar marketing whiz.