‘Side Show’ theater review: A spectacular revival

It depicts the real-life conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton.

“Side Show” belongs alongside a handful of dark, intense and emotionally scorching musicals from the late 1990s (i.e. “Parade,” “The Wild Party,” “Floyd Collins”) that flopped in New York but went on to be embraced on college campuses and by adventurous theater companies across the country.

It depicts the real-life conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who started out as carnival attractions but went on to become vaudeville stars in the 1930s. They were also featured in Tod Browning’s notorious 1932 film “Freaks.”

A few years ago, it was announced that composer Henry Krieger and lyricist-playwright Bill Russell would extensively revise “Side Show” for a revival to be staged by film director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls,” “Gods and Monsters”). After two regional runs, that production has arrived on Broadway, giving “Side Show” a much deserved second shot at success.

I must confess that I, like many other theater geeks who came of age when the show premiered, grew to love the original version of “Side Show,” and I have very mixed feelings about the revisions.

Although the best parts of the show have not been touched (including virtually the entire second half), the new dialogue and songs and added back-story do not make the show any more effective. If anything, they take away from its sense of momentum.

But for the most part, Condon’s production is a stunning achievement and a must-see attraction for anyone who cares about serious, Sondheim-style musical theater.

Unlike the original production, which was light on design elements, the new “Side Show” is ultra-elaborate and realistic when it comes to depicting the so-called “freaks.”

Erin Davie and Emily Padgett may lack the starry presence of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner (the original Violet and Daisy), but they credibly portray the twins and convey their conflicted emotions. They are joined by a superb cast including Matthew Hydzik, Robert Joy, Ryan Silverman and David St. Louis.

No matter how much the critics rave, “Side Show” is unlikely to be a commercial success. It’s back on Broadway because there are people who believe in it and have been touched by it. At the very least, it deserves to outlive the original production, which lasted just 91 performances.

If you go: “Side Show” plays an open run at the St. James Theatre. 246 W. 44th St., SideShowBroadway.com.

Matt Windman