Friday, May 1, 2015

Review: 3-D Theatricals' SIDE SHOW is Broadway West Coast Style

The cast of Side Show. All photos by Isaac James Creative

We live in a city that offers many different entertainment options for those in search of culture. Theatre productions, music concerts, art installations, dance performances, heritage festivals, book clubs, and discussions on cultural topics of all kinds can be found every day of the week. And a lot of consideration goes into the decision to spend money on one: does it interest me; can I afford it; is it close to home; do I have to pay for parking; and most importantly, will I be glad I went?

Here’s one for those of you who want a surefire win in the cultural category: 3-D Theatricals’ Side Show, which plays through May 10, 2015 at Plummer Auditorium. I don’t care if you typically only see classic musicals, or if contemporary offbeat musical theatre is your preference, you should see this one.

Why? It’s important. In this day and age when people are challenged every day to prove they’re worthy of love, equality, acceptance, and plain old human kindness, this musical holds the mirror up and asks each member of the audience to look at his or her own reflection. “Come look at the freaks,” says the opening number. But, who are the freaks? Them or us? Compassion has become a rare commodity in a world where anyone can say anything without taking responsibility for their words. This musical will make you ashamed of your bad behavior. It should. It will help you remember to be a better person.

Side Show is the story of the Hilton sisters, conjoined twins who were sold by their mother and paraded out for profit from a very early age. The musical follows their story from their days in the Side Show Odditorium through Vaudeville and on to Hollywood. Daisy wanted fame. Violet wanted stability. Both of them simply wanted to be loved. They did achieve notoriety, but true love was much more difficult to come by. In the end, they had each other, but little else.

Afton Quast, Jeannette Dawson, and Jay Donnell

The musical had two short runs on Broadway (the original in 1997 and a revised version in 2014) but never reached the success it should have had. In 3-D Theatrical’s revival, director TJ Dawson proves once again that his company has a riveting ability to dig into dramatic material and tell a story that will move you in spite of yourself. It is beautifully polished and poignantly nuanced. They do drama exceedingly well.

I know that’s the case because at intermission I overheard the couple sitting next to me discussing the show and how it wasn’t what they expected. He wasn’t crazy about a musical that dealt with freaks and she just plain wasn’t sure she liked it. Still, they decided to stay for the second act and see what happened. I didn’t engage them in conversation but was curious what they would say at the end of the show.

I didn’t have to wait long for the answer. As soon as the final notes were sung and the curtain call began, this older couple was on their feet, with smiles on their faces. Clearly moved, clearly engaged, Side Show and 3DT had won them over. Why go to the theatre? That’s why.

The cast of Side Show

This is Broadway west coast style, mounted with passionate attention to detail and executed with as much expertise as any production you’ll find in New York. The character work is mesmerizing, from the heartbreaking duo of Afton Quast (Daisy) and Jeannette Dawson (Violet) who lead the cast, to Nathan Holland (The Boss) who will make you recoil at his abusive treatment of the girls, to Jay Donnell (Jake) whose jazzy Act I showstopper “The Devil You Know” finally gives audiences a chance to see what this fierce actor is capable of. (Would someone please cast him as Coalhouse Walker in Ragtime already...we need to hear him sing that score). By the way, it’s a little uncanny how much Holland resembles that other 1970’s ringmaster, Chuck Barris, of The Gong Show fame.

Potential love interests Gregg Hammer, as cool businessman Terry Connor, and Gary Brintz as song and dance man Buddy Foster, the hoofer who helps the girls transition to Vaudeville, also offer resonant performances that don’t settle for surface treatment.

Jay Donnell as Jake

Nathan Holland and the cast of Side Show

Gregg Hammer, Afton Quast, Jeannette Dawson, and Gary Brintz

It is also emotionally-charged visually and presents early twentieth century forms of entertainment in keen fashion. Stephen Gifford’s set design and Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting create the seedy throwaway feel of the dust bowl traveling amusements contrasting them with the cheeky glamour of Vaudeville and “Overnight Sensation” fame, The Follies (Bird Cage style), and early motion pictures (with some terrific Egyptian choreography by Leslie Stevens). Kate Bergh provides a staggering array of costumes that run the gamut from careworn to glamorous to outright fantastical, and the accompanying wigs and makeup effects by Cliff & Kat Senior and Denice Paxton, respectively, saturate the world with even more authenticity.

Henry Krieger (music) and Bill Russell’s (book & lyrics) unique musical is a big top winner in 3-D Theatricals’ hands. Worth the drive, worth the money, and boasting free parking to boot, Side Show will exceed your expectations and deliver a more meaningful night at the theatre than you even thought possible. It deserves every rave it gets.  

Click Here for more gorgeous photos from the show.

April 25 - May 10, 2015
Plummer Auditorium
201 E Chapman Avenue
Fullerton, CA 92832

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