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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Sep 6, 2018

Side Show Theatre Review: Fact And Fiction Merge In The Retelling Of The Real Life Story Of The Conjoined Hilton Twins, Daisy And Violet

‘SIDE SHOW’ is a combination of fact and fiction based on the life of conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton, who were born in Brighton, England and were taken to the U.S. to do side shows while still young children. As young adults, they appeared in vaudeville in the 1920s and in the 1932 movie, “Freaks”, a movie about side show attractions with real life deformities. You can watch their old film clips while singing on YouTube.

The musical made on their lives was staged on Broadway twice and didn’t have very long runs in both instances, 3 months for the first one and only 7 weeks for the revival. The songs are by Henry Krieger, who was more successful with “Dream Girls” that has more hit songs like “One Night Only” and “And I’m Telling You”, both with knockout versions by Jennifer Hudson.

The show starts with Sir (Wency Cornejo), the side show’s ringmaster, introducing the various performers in “Come Look at the Freaks”, including Jake, the Cannibal King (Arman Ferrer), the bearded lady, etc. The star attraction is the Siamese twins, joined at the hip, Daisy and Violet Hilton (Gab Pangilinan & Kayla Rivera). Terry Connor (Markki Stroem), a talent scout, sees them with his friend Buddy (David Ezra) and is convinced he has found a gold mine in them. He succeeds in snatching them away from Sir, who claims to own them, and in making them big vaudeville stars. But will this be enough to make them happy?

The show effectively mines the inner feelings of the twins in various songs. Gab as Daisy, the more ambitious between the sisters who wants fame, and Kayla as the simpler Violet who prefers love and just dreams of having a family of her own, effectively convey every nuance of feeling their characters go through. Their joy and pain, hope and frustration as sisters who have different desires and temperaments.

They’re touching as they recount the cruelties they’ve encountered throughout their life, both from relatives and strangers who make fun of them as a single entity or who want to cut them in half on the operating table. They have to do everything together in unison (except for one imagined sequence) and their synchronization is just perfect, even in their rendition of the songs, particularly “Who Will Love Me as I Am” that ends Act 1 and “I Will Never Leave You” in Act 2, the show’s emotional highlight that made us helplessly experience LSS (last song syndrome) as we leave the RCBC Theatre in Makati.

Among the guys, the one who gets the biggest applause is Arman for “You Should Be Loved” where he finally tells Daisy his secret feelings for her and ends up heartbroken. Even in “Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag”, we’ve already observed “na halimaw talaga ito sa kantahan” with his impressive vocal chops.

Also astonishing is Markki who has yet to achieve success as a TV and film actor but, on stage, he rules all the scenes he is in not only with his dynamic presence as the slick and debonaire Terry but with his much improved singing, particularly in his “Private Conversation” number where he imagines what it would be to be in a relationship with Daisy, but he resists the attraction.

David shines in the upbeat number “One Plus One Equals Three” with Violet and Daisy, but he really has to hone more his dancing skills. The members of the ensemble all give great, passionate support and some of them manage to shine in their own solos, particularly Tim Pavino as Harry Houdini.

Inside the theater, someone approaches us: “Mario, is that you?” It’s Mel Tiangco and we tell her: “You should be proud, your son is good.” “Alam mo, hindi ko akalain,” she says. “Magaling palang umarte.”

The direction by Steven Conde gives the show a very fluid flow, with a design that mixes the goth and the glam effectively, capturing both the grim reality of the traveling side show and the bright but tawdry glamor of vaudeville in the era of Prohibition. The twins are garbed in flashy equally conjoined costumes.

As a whole, it’s a satisfying production but we just wish the book writer has come up with an ending that has more emotional impact. The musical concludes with Violet proceeding with her wedding to Buddy even if she knew he doesn’t really love her, then they have a reprise of “Come Look at the Freaks”. It’s just lacking in smashing effect and fails to touch us the way other stage musicals did.