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Walt Whitman High School Side Show

By • Nov 22nd, 2010 • Category: Cappies

Musical theater takes more than just song and dance; it thrives with the addition of heart, passion, and soul. Every once in a blue moon, a production comes along which takes these three elements and uses them to defy all notions of what a musical is and what it can be. Walt Whitman High School did all that and more in their astonishing production of Side Show.

Sadly, Side Show is not well known due to its short run on Broadway. The show has, however, developed somewhat of a cult following, leading to multiple off-Broadway productions over the years. Side Show is a semi-biographical depiction of Daisy and Violet Hilton’s rise to fame as performing Siamese twins. It delves deeply into what combination of physical, mental, and emotional afflictions classify a person as a freak.

The two leading ladies, Daisy and Violet Hilton (portrayed by Jane Bernhard and Emily Madden, respectively) serve as the emotional and thematic anchors for the show, only appearing on stage without the other in dream sequences. Technically, each of their performances were flawless, with both displaying beautiful diction, characterization, and vocal power. They truly shined, however, in their emotional connections with the audience and other actors on stage. Never for a moment was it hard to believe the torment and heartbreak that the Hilton sisters were forced to endure as “freaks” in the Vaudeville circuit. Their spectacular use of each other delivered incredibly poignant and moving conclusions to both acts in “Who Will Love Me As I Am” and “I Will Never Leave You.”

Jay Besch as Terry Connor not only portrayed the enigmatic businessman phenomenally, but also displayed an experienced baritone voice with a maturity level far beyond his years. His powerhouse vocals in “Private Conversation” shook the audience to its core, forcing them to contemplate Connor’s cold exterior juxtaposed with the torrent of emotion surging inside him.

The most difficult portion of producing Side Show must have been the book itself, which calls for almost nonstop vocals and orchestral music for the entirety of the production. Of course, neither the ensemble nor the orchestra disappointed. Several of the harmonies during choral moments (especially those in “Tunnel of Love” and “Say Goodbye to the Freak Show”) were beautifully sung by the ensemble, all of whom appeared to be singing with spectacular vocal control. Furthermore, the orchestra — which could not have sat quiet for more than two minutes over the course of both acts — delivered mellifluous accompaniment to incredibly difficult pieces at the quality of a professionally recorded soundtrack.

Among the supernatural events occurring on stage, however, the lighting stood out as brilliantly plotted and outstandingly executed. Frequent changes in color and direction never let the audience catch a break from the action onstage, which was always beautifully illuminated to just the right degree at just the right angle.

The best part about Side Show was the fact that each and every person on stage knew who they were and what their job was. Yes, the show had its humorous portions, and yes, there were moments of brightness in song and dance, but a sense of unease always pervaded every aspect of the performance. The Hilton sisters would never be accepted as true performers, nor would they be accepted as real people; they would always and forever be known as freaks. That dark edge is what took Whitman’s Side Show from a phenomenal production to a masterpiece.

by Devin Goodman of Thomas S. Wootton High School

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