James Naughton Interviews Laura Linney at Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts

Laura Linney

Here’s a disturbing thought: Laura Linney almost didn’t become an actress. “I fought against it for a long time; I felt I had to earn it,” she explained in an interview with actor/director James Naughton at Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Auditorium on March 6. Growing up backstage with her father, playwright Romulus Linney, she so revered the theatre that initially, she was “afraid to become a part of it.” Fortunately for her many fans, Linney did eventually embrace the craft, enrolling at Julliard for her training.

The inspiring and entertaining discussion between Linney and Naughton was the latest in an excellent series presented by The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center in collaboration with the League of Professional Theatre Women. Betty Corwin, Pat Addiss, and Sophia Romma produced the event.

Radiant in a simple all-black ensemble—skinny leather pants, knit top, and hip, spikey shoes—Linney looked decades younger than her 53 years. Her acting DNA predates her playwright father:  her grandmother was an actress manqué. In homage to her, Linney proudly displayed the gold sunburst pendant she wore—grandma’s long-ago won elocution medal.

Hailed as one of the best actresses of her generation, Laura Linney continues to captivate audiences with her work in film, television, and theatre. She is a three-time Oscar nominee, three-time Tony nominee, four-time Emmy winner, and two-time Golden Globe winner.

Throughout the hour-long interview, Linney and Naughton covered a lot of creative ground, discussing her childhood, her experience at Juilliard (where she now mentors fourth-year acting students), working with Clint Eastwood, parenthood (Linney gave birth to her son Bennett just before her 50th birthday), and how she manages to overcome her deep dislike of cameras. Throughout, Linney remained forthright, insightful, charming, and completely accessible.

Linney attributes much of her career success to the training she received at Juilliard. She is unstinting in her praise for the school, telling Naughton, “When people ask me, ‘What was your big break?’ I say it was going to Julliard. It’s a tough school, but it for me it was like water in the desert.” She continued, “Once it became clear to me that I could no longer be a ‘closet actress,’ that I was serious about acting, I knew I had to get trained. Juilliard was the right school for me.” She then sighed, lamenting, “I miss my time at Juilliard.”

The actress credited fellow actor Kevin Kline for helping her prepare for her film work with director Clint Eastwood (Eastwood directed her in Absolute Power, Mystic River, and, most recently, Sully): “Kevin told me, ‘Film acting is all about relaxation.’ Clint does one take and no rehearsal. So I learned how to ‘simmer’ all day, to save my energy. I learned how to surrender.” Linney also shared that she does a huge amount of preparation for every role: “Not feeling prepared makes me nervous. I do a lot of work before I get there, which puts my own self-doubt to rest.” When Naughton queried her about her disdain for cameras—ironic for an actress who works in film—she replied, “I don’t like having my picture taken, so I’ve learned to connect with the person behind the camera. I especially love the focus pullers. Generally the camera people look down at the floor between takes, to avoid betraying their feelings. But the focus pullers, I can tell what they’re thinking by their body language. They humanize it for me.”

Naughton and Linney talked about Linney’s work as executive producer and actress on Showtime’s well-received series The Big C, about a suburban wife and mother coping with the disease. Linney won a Golden Globe for the show, which ran for four seasons. The discussion took a personal turn for both Naughton (whose wife died of pancreatic cancer in 2013) and Linney, who was raised by a single-parent mother who worked as a nurse at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Linney shared that she was aware of the disease from a very young age, as she got to know her mother’s grateful patients. She recalled being taken to meet one of her mother’s more famous patients, composer Richard Rodgers. “He hugged her in a way that really made an impression on me, showing how much her care meant to him,” she said.” Linney’s playwright father died of cancer during the filming of The Big C, imbuing the series with a particularly personal resonance. “Comedy is a survival technique,” explained Linney about the show. “We use comedy to find the truth through the chaos.”

In closing, Linney told the audience, “The only career decision I ever made is to cast the net wide, to not say ‘no’.” She outlined what she needs to effectively practice her craft: “Sleep, quiet, and good coffee.” Let’s hope the universe provides all three in great abundance, for many years to come.

Broadway audiences can next catch Laura Linney in April when she will co-star with Cynthia Nixon in Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of Lillian Hellman’s legendary play The Little Foxes. (In an interesting twist, Linney and Nixon will alternate the lead roles of Regina and Birdie). Other upcoming projects include the film The Dinner, directed by Oren Moverman, with Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, and Rebecca Hall and Ozark, a Netflix original series where she plays opposite Jason Bateman and Julia Garner.

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The Best Places to Hobnob with Broadway Stars

Everyone knows the stars come out at night. But where do they go after the curtain comes down? Here are 5 places where you can mingle with your favorite actors as they unwind from their 8 performances a week.

Sardi’s: 234 West 44th St.

The quintessential theatre hangout, Sardi’s has been the toast of Broadway for 90 years. Founded by “Vincent” Sardi, Sr. and his wife Jenny in 1947, it continues to provide a neighborhood oasis for those in the theatrical community. The restaurant is distinctive for two reasons: it’s the birthplace of the Tony Award (theatrical producer and director Brock Pemberton came up with the idea while eating lunch at Sardi’s) and for its extensive collection of original caricatures of Broadway luminaries. Like many of the theatres in the neighborhood, Sardi’s goes dark on Mondays.

sardis

Joe Allen: 326 W. 46th St.

While Broadway folk love Joe Allen’s delicious bistro-type delicacies (try the burger or Caesar salad), not one of them wants to see their show’s poster anywhere on the premises. Here’s why: In 1965, soon after Joe Allen opened the restaurant that bears his name, the cast of the show Kelly presented him with their show’s poster. Kelly closed after just one performance—and since then it has been a Broadway tradition for Broadway’s famous and infamous flops to adorn its walls.

joe-allens

Schnippers Quality Kitchen: 620 8th Avenue (40th/41st)

Because of its location and quality fast-ish food menu, Schnippers is the perfect place for a working actor to grab a bite between or after shows. There’s something for everyone—salads and veggie burgers for the ingénue who’s watching her weight; sloppy joes and mac ‘n cheese for the stage crew. And with Aladdin and The Cherry Orchard playing just around the corner, you just might run into the Genie or Joel Grey.

schnippers

Schmackary’s: 362 W. 45th St.

Billing itself as “Generation Y’s answer to the old American bake shop,” this Hell’s Kitchen outpost of all that is sinfully sweet and gooey became an instant Broadway favorite when Zachary “Schmackary” Schmahl first opened his storefront in 2012. You never know who you might see at one of the tables or even behind the counter—Tony winners have worked the counter as part of an ongoing fundraising effort for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Broadway darling Kristin Chenowith is a fan of Schmackary’s “funfetti” cookies and Schmackary’s delish delights can often be found backstage or in performers’ dressing rooms.

schmackarys

Drama Book Shop: 250 W. 40th St.

If it’s printed material relating to the theatre—librettos, scripts, textbooks, criticism, etc.—you’ll find it in this 100-year-old theatre district treasure trove. Here’s what Tony winner Lin Manuel Miranda has to say about it: “The Drama Book Shop is our greatest resource—it’s been here since 1918 [and] I wrote most of In The Heights in the basement.” When the shop suffered extreme water damage due to a burst pipe earlier this year, Miranda launched the hashtag #BuyABook, raising the shop’s profile and revenue enough to allow it to weather the storm.

Drama Book Shop.jpg

 

BROADWAY’S MARY-MITCHELL CAMPBELL LEADS “HAPPINESS” PANEL AT THE UN

Happiness

C’mon, everybody, get happy! After such a long, cold, and snowy winter, who couldn’t use a bit more happiness? In celebration of the third annual International Day of Happiness, a group of experts will gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Thursday, March 19 to explore the latest data on happiness.

Sponsored by the NGO Relations and Advocacy Section of the UN’s Department of Public Information, the panel will explore scientifically proven data that demonstrates the inverse relationship that wealth (both national and personal) can have on happiness.

Mary-Mitchell Campbell, the musical director of the new show Finding Neverland and founder of Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), will moderate the international panel.

Speakers include:

Dr. Kai Ping Peng: Berkeley Professor and founding member of International Positive Education Network (IPEN) will talk about the effect positive education has on children in China.

Dr. Hector Escamilla: President of Tecmilenio University, México, will focus on his work in the Jalisco province that is proving the impact of positive education in one of Mexico’s poorest regions.

Deborah Heisz, COO, Co-Founder, Live Happy, the voice of the Happiness Movement, will discuss the proven impact happiness has in all areas of life—and how it can actually drive personal economic growth.

Alejandro Adler: A member of the International Expert Well-being Group comprising leading experts from distinct disciplines working with the United Nations to create a new development paradigm based on well-being and happiness set to go into effect in 2015.

Ami Dar: Founder of Idealist.org, the #1 resource helping people searching for careers in nonprofits.

Jeffrey Brez: Chief of the NGO Relations and Advocacy Section. He will announce the United Nations MixRadio  #HappySoundsLike campaign that marks the International Day of Happiness 2015.

In addition, Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University’s Earth Institute (via video) will present a sneak peak at the upcoming World Happiness Report 3, which examines the relationship of happiness to gender through the lens of culture.

The event runs from 11:00 a.m. through 12:30 p.m. and can be live streamed at webtv.un.org

For more information, contact Gabriella DeLuca: gdeluca@kruppnyc.com

QUICK TAKES: 4 SHOWS TO SEE RIGHT NOW

Every Brilliant Thing

Jonny Donahoe in Every Brilliant Thing

In my two most recent posts I’ve presented a sneak peak at some Broadway plays and musicals that are on the horizon. While we’re waiting for Spring to arrive—both inside and outside the theatre—here are four terrific plays, (2 on Broadway and 2 off Broadway) that are currently playing and are highly recommended. Go see them now, before they’re gone.

Every Brilliant Thing. Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St.

This is a show with a simple message: Life, despite its challenges and disappointments, is a beautiful thing, if you just take the time to notice the small joys all around you. British actor/writer/comedian Jonny Donahoe stars as a man who, as a young boy and continuing throughout his life, creates a list of “every brilliant thing” in the world to convince his suicidal mother to keep on living. Sounds depressing, right? It is anything but. The show is both inspiring and fun, as Donahoe (who also co-wrote with Duncan Macmillan) enlists the participation of the audience in enumerating life’s small pleasures. He hands out numbered slips of paper before the show begins, asking audience members to read each paper aloud when he mentions its number. For example: 1. Ice cream, 2. Water fights, 3. Things with stripes, 4. Christopher Walken’s voice. As the boy matures into a man, the brilliant things evolve into more adult choices: Starting a new book; Falling in love. At 65 minutes with no intermission, the show is a short, sweet, and thoroughly satisfying brilliant thing, well worth the trip down to Barrow Street.

Every Brilliant Thing continues through March 29.

Disgraced. Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.

The mise en scene in Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a familiar one: the dinner party. Amir, an up-and-coming attorney, and his artist wife Emily are hosts to Emily’s art dealer, Isaac and his wife Jory, a colleague at Amir’s law firm. They are of diverse ethnic backgrounds: Amir is a lapsed (some might say, self-loathing) Muslim, Isaac is Jewish, and Jory is African American. It’s been said that to keep the peace at social gatherings, two potential powder keg topics should be avoided: politics and religion. Unfortunately for Amir (but fortunately for the dramatic tension of the play), the play’s characters ignore that advice—and by the end of the evening, no one emerges unscathed. This is a thought-provoking, engaging evening at the theatre that will provide ample material for your own post-theatre dinner conversation.

Read the complete Shari on the Aisle review.

Disgraced continues through March 1.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.

Olivier Award-winning British playwright Simon Stephens has adapted Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel about an autistic boy’s investigation into the murder of a neighborhood dog into an incredibly moving and dazzling work of theatre. What makes the play so remarkable is how, through innovative stagecraft that includes grid-like projections, lighting, and audio, we experience what it’s like to be Christopher, the play’s young protagonist. We feel the almost unbearable pain of sensory overload that afflicts an autistic child. The brilliant staging, along with a remarkable performance by Alex Sharp (a recent Julliard grad wowing audiences in his Broadway debut) in the lead role, creates a theatrical experience that is incredibly moving and unique. Sharp, along with the play, are sure to be on the list of 2014/15 Tony nominees.

Performances of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time are ongoing.

Between Riverside and Crazy. Second Stage, Tony Kiser Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St.

On the surface, Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Between Riverside and Crazy looks like another play about a dysfunctional family. Pops (veteran actor Stephen McKinley Henderson) is a 60-something cop who was shot while off duty a few years back. A recent widower, he shares his rent controlled Riverside Drive apartment with an assortment of younger, troubled characters—all of whom call him Pops or Dad (whether related to him or not). His son Junior, fresh from jail, is selling hot merchandise out of his bedroom. Junior’s friend Oswaldo is struggling to stay clean. And Junior’s girlfriend announces she’s pregnant. Pops, who refuses to settle his lawsuit against the NYPD, may lose the apartment. But look beneath the surface, and nothing is as it seems. The ensemble, especially Henderson, does a fine job in this restaging of an Atlantic Theatre production.

Between Riverside and Crazy continues through March 22.

Curious Incident

With Curious Incident’s Alex Sharp

For ticket information on all of these shows, check out the show’s websites, playbill.com, TKTS, and Broadway Helper.com

BROADWAY SPRING PREVIEW, Part II (Musicals)

Twentieth Century

Baby, it’s cold outside! But here’s a happy thought to warm a theatre lover’s heart: Warmer weather and the new Spring Broadway season will be here before you know it, with some shows beginning previews in February.

Here are a few musicals that are coming up soon—two revivals and one new work. (Keep in mind that dates are subject to change). For a look at the season’s upcoming plays, read my previous post, Broadway Spring Preview Part I: Plays.

On the Twentieth Century

First Preview: February 13; Opening: March 12 (20-week limited run);

Theatre: American Airlines (Roundabout), 227 W. 42nd St.

Broadway/TV darling and Tony/Emmy winner Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked, Promises, Promises, “The West Wing,” “Glee”) will costar with Golden Globe winner Peter Gallagher (Guys and Dolls, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” “The O.C.”), in this revival. Music and lyrics are by Broadway legends Cy Coleman and Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Six-time Tony nominee Scott Ellis will direct. Although the original 1978 Broadway production (directed by Hal Prince) won Tony awards for best original score and best book, it has not been revived on Broadway until now.

The action takes place on a luxury train (the Twentieth Century Limited) en route from Chicago to New York, as bankrupt theater producer Oscar Jaffe (Gallagher) tries to cajole his former lover, the glamorous Hollywood starlet Lily Garland (Chenoweth), into playing the lead in his new (but non-existent) drama.

The terrifically talented Andy Karl, Tony nominated for the title role in Rocky, also stars. On the Twentieth Century is a big, splashy, crowd-pleasing show. Everyone involved in Roundabout’s revival, from the actors to the set and costume designers, are top-notch. Hopefully they have what it takes to put the show on the track to success.

The King and I

First Preview: March 12; Opening: April 16

Theatre: Vivian Beaumont (Lincoln Center), 160 W. 65th St.

To quote Saturday Night Live’s Stefon, “This show has it all.” The new Lincoln Center revival of this beloved, historic American musical boasts a lush Rogers and Hammerstein score, choreography based on Jerome Robbins’ original, a cast of 50, and most importantly, in the role of Anna, the glorious 5-time Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara. Seen most recently on Broadway in The Bridges of Madison County, O’Hara has one of the most angelic voices in the American theatre, and she never fails to delight audiences. (Television viewers may have seen her as Mrs. Darling, the highlight of NBC’s telecast of “Peter Pan Live”).

The King and I is the tale of Anna, a British schoolteacher, and her unexpected relationship with the imperious King of Siam, played in the revival by Japanese actor Ken Watanabe (“The Last Samurai.”) The original, multi-Tony Award-winning production, which opened on Broadway in 1951, starred Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner. It has not been revived on Broadway since 1996.

Lincoln Center knows how to put on a show. They’ve put together a winning cast and crew (under the direction of Bartlett Sher, who won a Tony for directing Lincoln Center’s South Pacific, also starring O’Hara). This King and I is sure to have audiences leaving the theatre “whistling a happy tune.”

Finding Neverland

First Preview: March 15; Opening: April 15

Theatre: Lunt-Fontanne, 205 W. 46th St.

Billed as “The story of how Peter Pan Became Peter Pan,” this highly anticipated new musical is based on the 2004 Johnny Depp film of the same name. The key players include one of Broadway’s hottest directors, Diane Paulus (Pippin, Hair), an original score by Gary Barlow and Grammy winner Eliot Kennedy, book by James Graham, and choreography by three-time Emmy winner Mia Michaels (“So You Think You Can Dance,” Cirque de Soleil’s “Delirium”). Starring will be Matthew Morrison (Glee, South Pacific), Kelsey Grammer, and Laura Michelle Kelly.

The plot focuses on how a young widow and her four young sons became the inspiration for J.M. Barrie’s beloved “Peter Pan” stories.

Some notes on casting: Tony nominee Jeremy Jordan (Newsies, “Smash”) starred as Barrie in the 2014 American Repertory Theatre production, but Morrison, who played Barrie in an earlier, developmental workshop, will star on Broadway. Grammer replaces Tony winner Michael McGrath in the role of Charles Frohman, Barrie’s producer/Captain Hook. (You can see McGrath over at Roundabout, in the revival of On the Twentieth Century).

Finding Neverland has been plagued by negative word of mouth throughout its two pre-Broadway out of town trials (in Leicester, England and Cambridge, Massachusetts). Although extensive changes (including a new creative team) have been made along the way, the show is far from a sure-fire hit. It’s also unclear whether the show will appeal to children, adults, or—if the show is to make it on Broadway—both.

Other musicals on the horizon include two with a Parisian theme (Gigi and An American in Paris) and another where the action takes place in a family’s funeral home:

Gigi. This newly revised stage adaptation of Lerner and Loewe’s 1958 movie musical is debuting out of town at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center (through February 12) prior to arriving on Broadway. Based on the novel by Colette, Gigi stars Vanessa Hudgens (best known as the star of the Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” series) in the title role, a Belle Epoque Parisian girl who is being groomed as a courtesan. The original 1973 Broadway production closed after just over 100 performances, but won the Tony for best score.

First preview: March 19; Opens April 8; Neil Simon Theatre

An American in Paris. With music by George and Ira Gershwin and a book by Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Light in the Piazza), this new show arrives on Broadway via a successful run at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Classic songs in this stage adaptation of the beloved 1951 Gene Kelly film (which won 6 Academy Awards) include “I Got Rhythm” and “Swonderful.” Robert Fairchild, Leanne Cope, Veanne Cox, and Jill Paice star.

First preview: March 13; Opens April 12; Palace Theatre

Fun Home. Fresh from its award-winning, sold out run at the Public Theatre, this Lisa Kron/Jeanine Tesori musical stars Michael Cerveris and Judy Kuhn. Based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel about sexual identity and family relationships, Fun Home has been dubbed “the first mainstream musical about a young lesbian.”

First preview: March 27; Opens April 19; Circle in the Square

Fun Home

A LOOK BACK AT SOME FAVORITE 2014 BROADWAY SHOWS

Shari HedwigHedwig and the Angry Inch: This show has become a cult favorite, with many fans returning to see the show time after time, despite (or perhaps because of) the rotating cast of Hedwigs. I admit that I am somewhat obsessed with the show, a condition precipitated by Neil Patrick Harris’s memorably heart-breaking performance as the original Broadway Hedwig. (I called it “the performance of a lifetime”). I saw the show a second time, with the talented Andrew Rannells (Tony nominated for The Book of Mormon) who created an angrier, less vulnerable, Hedwig. And yes, I have my ticket for an upcoming third performance, when John Cameron Mitchell (who starred in the original off-Broadway and film versions of Hedwig and wrote the show’s book), will once again don gold platform boots and step into the role. (Stay tuned). Lena Hall, a Tony winner for her role as Hedwig’s husband Yitzhak, remains in the show.

Disgraced: This is probably the best new play I saw in 2014, and fortunately for theatre-goers, it still graces the stage of the Lyceum Theatre. Ayad Ahktar’s tale of an upwardly mobile Pakistani/American attorney’s rapid fall deservedly won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The 5-person cast that includes Hari Dhillon, Gretchen Mol, and “How I Met Your Mother’s” Josh Radnor, does a splendid job, but here, “the play’s the thing.” Ahktar’s daring and insightful writing creates moments that both illuminate and shock, providing much food for thought and post-performance discussion.

Side Show PlaybillSide Show: Critics adored this revamped production of the 1997 original. Yet somehow it just never found its audience (or enough of an audience to satisfy the Jujamcyn organization). Like its predecessor, Side Show closed too soon, giving its final performance on January 4, just 7 weeks after opening night. I thought it was brilliant, touching, and riveting, with amazing performances by Erin Davie and Emily Padgett as the Hilton sisters. I called it “the best show you’ve never seen,” and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to see it.

A Raisin in the Sun: The 2014 Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s much-reprised and greatly admired play was as fine a staging as we’ll ever see. Although the cast member with the most star power was Denzel Washington (as Walter Lee Younger), it was the women (LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Sophie Okonedo, and Anika Noni Rose) who shined the brightest. All three were nominated for Tonys, and when I saw the play, my feeling was, “Give LaTanya the Tony right now!” (But who can compete with the genius Audra McDonald? (See below).

Lady DayLady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill: While Lanie Robertson’s play depicts jazz legend Billie Holiday at a low point in her career, Audra McDonald’s performance in Lady Day shows us a great talent at the height of her powers. McDonald won a record-setting sixth Tony Award (for Best Actress in a Play) for her unforgettable performance in this show, where, in contrast to the performance she reenacts, she played to sold-out audiences night after night. It was painful to witness the portrayal of decline and despair of a singular talent like the Billie Holiday at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, but at the same time it was uplifting to witness the brilliance of the gifted performer Audra McDonald in remembering and honoring the late great Lady Day.

Also Memorable: All the Way, Casa Valentina, Cabaret, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Love Letters, Rocky, Honeymoon in Vegas (Opens January 15)

Worst Shows of the Year: The Realistic Joneses, Bullets Over Broadway, Somewhere Fun (Off-Broadway)

See you on the Aisle in 2015!

Erin Davie

SIDE SHOW

Side Show

St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.

Unless you act soon—and by soon, I mean within the next 2 weeks, Side Show will be the best show you’ve never seen. And that’s just sad. I had the privilege of seeing this excellent production several days ago, and its poignant spell is still with me.

Lead Cast: Erin Davie (Violet Hilton), Emily Padgett (Daisy Hilton), David St. Louis (Jake), Ryan Silverman (Terry Connor), Matthew Hydzik (Buddy Foster), Robert Joy (Sir)

Director: Bill Condon

Music: Henry Krieger

Book and Lyrics: Bill Russell

Additional Book Material: Bill Condon

Background:  The current Broadway production of Side Show is a revamped version of the original, which opened 17 years ago, on October 16, 1997. The show is based on a true story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who rose from exploitation as freaks in a seamy side show to become Vaudeville stars. Although the original show received many positive reviews (New York Times critic Ben Brantley called it a “daring, enthralling production”), it closed on January 3, 1998, after only 31 previews and 91 regular performances. Sadly, history will repeat itself when the new Side Show closes on January 4, 2015, just 7 weeks after opening night.

I didn’t see the 1997 Broadway production, but I’m told by people who did that the new version adds several new songs and cuts others, and that the book has been reworked to include more exposition about the Hilton twins’ childhood in England.

The Production

I found this show absolutely riveting from beginning to end. The opening number “Come Look at the Freaks,” sets the mood: the sets (by David Rockwell) are spare, often only suggesting the actual physical surroundings. The lighting (Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer) effortlessly guides your eye to focus on what’s important in any given scene. There are some special effects—as when a costume change appears to happen by magic—that are amazing.

But it is the performances take your breath away. Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, actresses who offstage don’t really look alike, convince us that they are physically identical—literally joined at the hip. In addition to the physical transformation, they also convey the twins’ very different personalities. Daisy (Ms. Padgett) is brash and flirtatious and dreams of stardom. Violet is more reserved. Their contrasting personas are illustrated in the song “Like Everyone Else:”

Violet sings, “I want to be like everybody else; to walk down the street not attracting attention.” Daisy yearns for fame: “I want to be like everyone else, but richer and more acclaimed. Worshiped and celebrated.” The stunning costume designs (by Paul Tazewell) underscore the idea of sameness vs. difference: Daisy and Violet dress alike, but in dresses that are mirror images of each other.

Because a “normal” life is impossible for the sisters, who have always been made to feel they are “freaks of nature,” only Daisy will get her wish. Once rescued from the exploitation of the side show by the handsome, smooth-talking Terry O’Connor, the girls achieve fame and fortune as Vaudeville stars. (Of course they are still being exploited, but with a higher standard of living).

I want to give a shout out to David St. Louis, who as Jake, the girls’ protector and champion (and who suffers unrequited love for Violet), is simply stunning in every scene he plays and every song he sings. I’m hoping that he’ll be recognized, along with Davie and Padgett, with a Tony nomination

Heartbreaking Moments

Side Show is ultimately a love story. Despite an often cruel and exploitive world, Daisy and Violet know that they will always have each other. While they do consider separation surgery, they are told that it is risky—that one or both might not survive. They realize that it is their connectedness that truly defines them and makes them special; that in a world where they are viewed as freaks, they are never alone. They are bound together in body and soul, by love.

Two emotional duets underscore the touching and profound love between Daisy and Violet: the first act closer, “Who Will Love Me as I Am?” and the last song in Act 2 (before a reprise of “Come Look at the Freaks”), “I Will Never Leave You.” If these plaintive songs don’t bring a tear to your eye, you have no heart.

From “Who Will Love Me as I Am?”:

Who will ever call to say I love you? Send me flowers or a telegram?

Who could proudly stand beside me? Who will love me as I am?

From “I Will Never Leave You”:

I will never leave you; I will never go away

We were meant to share each moment; Beside you is where I will stay

Evermore and always; We’ll be one though we’re two

For I will never leave you

Why the Side Show Must End

Why can’t this thrilling and touching show make it on Broadway? Part of the problem stems from the subject matter. When people hear the words “Siamese twins” and “freaks” they may mistakenly assume the show is somehow distasteful or upsetting. Other reasons are more mundane, having to do with the “business” part of show business. While the orchestra section was full for the matinee I attended, theatre staff they told me that ticket sales for the mezzanine were generally poor. When St. James Theatre owner Jujamcyn saw an opportunity to book a potential blockbuster new musical, Something Rotten (directed by Book of Mormon’s Casey Nicholaw), it turned its back on Side Show. As Side Show producer Darren Bagert told The New York Times: “We were persuaded to post a notice prematurely, in the middle of a holiday season ticket upswing. If there weren’t another show clawing at the door, I think we’d still be at the theater.”

When I spoke to several cast members after the performance, they were understandably disappointed that this high-quality, audience-pleasing production was ending too soon. Like Daisy and Violet, both the 1997 and 2014 productions of Side Show beseech us: “Who will love me as I am?”

So, in the words of Side Show’s opening number, “Come Look at the Freaks”:

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up! Right this way!

See the freaks! They are here! They are real!

They are all alive! Inside!

(But only until January 4).

Trivia: January 4, the date the current Broadway production will close, is the same date the Hilton sisters died (in 1969, at age 60).

Ticket Info: Discounted tickets are available on Playbill.com and at TKTS in Times Square. You can find detailed information about Side Show and other Broadway shows at BroadwayHelper.com

I urge you to see this amazing show before it’s too late. While the show’s website doesn’t specify any age recommendation, due to the mature subject matter, I would say leave the kids under 15 at home.

Show Website.

With Erin Davie.

Erin Davie