Theatre — Sideshow
The original Hilton sisters
Londondery theater group takes on Sideshow
Music and Drama Company (known as MadCo, to those in the theater loop), a Londonderry-based community theater group, was ready to produce their spring musical, which had been selected months earlier. The board of the award-winning troupe had chosen Stephen Sondheim’s fairy tale homage, Into the Woods.
That’s when a giant monkey wrench halted their plans: a professional theater company in the Boston area had purchased the regional rights to the show, forbidding MadCo to perform it.
“We tried begging them, but they wouldn’t budge,” recalled Pam Bowen, president of the board of trustees and a producer for MadCo. “So we had to go back to the drawing board.”
That’s when one of the board members suggested Sideshow, a little known, rarely-produced musical that retells the true story of Violet and Daisy Hilton. Far from being the spoiled heiresses with the same last name, Violet and Daisy were two conjoined sisters who began their careers as exploited sideshow attractions and eventually went on to become vaudeville and film stars. The show depicts their struggle to find acceptance and love in spite of their unusual disability.
“We’d never seen the show, but some of the board members had heard the music and were impressed by it,” Bowen said. “It’s one of the more challenging musicals out there. It ran on Broadway very briefly in 1997, but it was overshadowed by the bigger shows at that time, like Titanic and Ragtime.”
While it was dwarfed by the blockbuster productions at the box office, Sideshow did win critical acclaim and has the obscure honor of being the only musical in Tony history to have two actresses nominated for essentially the same role — the two leads, Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, who played Daisy and Violet.
In the MadCo version, two young theater veterans will take on the leading roles. Holly Laurent, who has performed all over the southern NH area, Peacock Players, Seacoast Repertory Theatre, and The Palace Professional Players, will play Daisy, while her equally ubiquitous counterpart, fellow Peacock Players alum Lauren Cassidy, will play Violet. Laurent and Cassidy will be physically bound together just as the real twins were, moving and performing as one.
“These actresses are young, but they have been performing for a long time,” Bowen said. “They both know their way around a stage. And they both have incredible voices.”
Bowen said that casting the conjoined twins was a difficult process.
“Not only did we have to find two young actresses with great voices, but they had to look alike physically and their voices had to work well together,” she said.
The musical is almost entirely sung, with only a few lines of dialogue in between. The score is diverse and includes vaudevillian-style songs, along with blues and even some rock-influenced numbers.
“It’s got a little something for everyone,” Bowen said. “I think older people will appreciate the history behind it, while younger audience members will like the storyline and the choreography.”
The supporting cast includes a wild array of sideshow stars, including longtime theater regular Betty Fortin as the Fortune Teller and Rosemary Dunn, who starred in MadCo’s version of Cabaret, as the Snake Charmer. The show is directed by Ron Godfrey.
“The show is just an eloquent, haunting story,” Bowen said. “That’s why we chose it. It’s something different, and it’s a true story.”
Sideshow will run Apr. 21-23 and 29-30 at the Adams Memorial Opera House in Derry. For tickets and show times, send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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