Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Theater review: Enter a world of freaks with Side Show at PFamily Arts Theater
Follow a pair of conjoined twins, a bearded lady and a snake charmer on a journey of circus shenanigans.
PLANO A successful production must utilize its performers, designers and crew to entertain the spectators while inducing a relevant thought process in its audience. A most wonderful facet of theater is its ability to tell a story whose theme persists throughout the years. Side Show, as presented by PFamily Arts in Plano, was a sincere instance of just how well the elements of performance can be used to tell an entertaining message.
Side Show, set in 1930s America, tells of a small circus group of “freaks” focusing on a pair of conjoined twins. The twins, named Daisy and Violet Hilton, begin a journey with many other stock characters including a boss, geek, snake charmer, and even a fortune teller as they search for fame, love, and self-awareness.
The show began about 10 minutes later than scheduled; however, this was not an inconvenience as the general feeling of the theater was very warm, friendly and accommodating. I found myself shifting to the edge of my seat when the show began. As the opening number, “Come Look At The Freaks,” boomed to a start I was intrigued by the power of the actors’ voices. The vocalization of the performers started the show with burst of energy and enthusiasm that carried itself through to “Finale.”
The twins, played by Mallory Michaellann (Daisy Hilton) and Jad Saxton (Violet Hilton), struggle for fame and realization of their dreams while venturing on a journey in search of individualism in a very pluralistic situation. The chemistry of both actresses really shined throughout the show. Specifically when they were alone on stage sharing their inner most thoughts with one another, willingly or not. The musical number “I Will Never Leave You” also proved that both actresses could sing a powerful but tragic melody that lingers post show. The heart saddening song did a fine job at portraying how suffocating and frustrating it must feel to be unable to make your own personal decisions.
The two male leads, Sam Beasley (Buddy Foster) and Greg Hullett (Terry Connor), played the part of two businessmen wanting to make a name for themselves. Sam Beasley played Buddy with high-energy and charisma. On the contrary, Greg Hullett portrayed Terry as more grounded and provoking. The duo complimented each other well in their opposition. In “Tunnel of Love,” all four lead actors sang with clean technique. They seamlessly picked up cues and fed off of each others’ energy. Buddy and Daisy’s voices at the top of the song were much higher pitched than Terry and Violet’s voices were. This difference in vocals accentuated the dynamic between the couples and their restrictive relationship. As the song continues, however, these emotions were switched from one couple to the other throughout the duration of the tune a smooth transition.
This cast of actors all held and expressed a feeling of true ensemble as they each worked together. Thomas E. Cunningham, as the Boss, did a wonderful job at instilling fear in his circus workers as he goes on a near violent drunken rage mid-show. The vocal reactions of the other performers along with the facial expressions of the other performers worked to create a sense of apprehension on stage. The unison in vocal strength, character choices, and physical awareness created a much larger world than their individual characters. The younger crowd will love watching each character as they respectfully indulge in their own worlds with side glances and earnest reactions to every situation on stage.
Upon entering the theater space and finding a seat, attention is immediately drawn to a slightly raised stage occupied by an intriguing set design. The minimal set employed a handful of large, wooden bleacher type units. Each bleacher unit also had a series of innovative, swappable curtains hung on them that resemble circus display tents. These units could be efficiently moved between song transitions by the actors themselves. The set was also complimented by a pulley-system of yellow and white stripe circus tent curtains hung in between scenes. One aspect of the set I found to be most commendable was the utilization of the actors in the re-arrangement of the set pieces. The design really allowed the viewer to feel as if they were watching a traveling group of circus freaks perform.
Being a musical, Side Show, did very well in utilizing performers with vocals that truly carried each note to the ears of the audience. Actor Babakoyode Ipaye, as Jake, performed “You Should be Loved” with enough energy and charisma to keep an entire arena intrigued. His vocal delivery was deep and emphasized by his character’s pain. His voice seemed well trained as he fed his powerful vocals to the audience. Even better, the music was all performed live. In fact, the musicians, set on a platform upstage of the set, were enough in view to build that anticipation often accompanied with music.
In this production of Side Show, the lighting was used to build and sustain the atmosphere of the play. The “Tunnel of Love” musical number was a prime example of this. The lights were dimmed to a subtle yet romantic red glow, giving the feeling of being alone with your date on the infamous ride. Lighting is essential to a musical as complicated dance moves can be missed with the slightest dark spot. I found these dark spots only a couple of times throughout the production. However, quick thinking cast member Buddy Foster, played by Sam Beasley, quickly noticed and shifted his movements to be more in light.
Certainly at no point will you find a break in the play’s illusion through costume. On the contrary, the designer’s use of costumes aimed at creating another world that invokes thought from the spectator. The Bearded Lady, played by Garrett Storms, is humorously seen in a nice dress, high heels and a boa all while bearing a classy cigarette. More clever costumes include the Geek, played by Justin Duncan, seen in overalls and a blood-stained shirt or even the Snake Charmer dressed in exotic make-up and garments. In point, the set and lighting were both complementary to the costume design in that they all give a feeling of unison to everything on stage. The conjoined twins’ costumes must have proven a challenge given the circumstances of casting limitations without an actual pair of conjoined twins. There are several dance numbers involving the twins. It was very interesting to see how the twins’ costumes were perfectly matched as the actresses danced gracefully across the stage while connected at the hip. The ensemble feeling between the twins and the rest of the cast was near perfect in terms of movement, musicality and mutuality.
The thought provoking message of Side Show is told well by committed performers, live music, and a fusion of theater design. I would easily recommend for anyone to “Come Look at The Freaks” in PFamily Arts’ production of Side Show. This show is, simply put, an entertaining experience that is sure to provoke some hearty laughs and possibly a tear or two.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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