Theater review | Thru sept. 29 Side Show, now having its Indianapolis premiere at Buck Creek Players, is a piece of musical theater at its best: It entertains, while allowing the audience a chance to feel, reflect, laugh. It is based on the real-life story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who grew up as part of a circus sideshow.

Robyne Ault (left) and Amanda Lawson portray conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton in Buck Creek Players" "Side Show."

Their break came when Buddy Foster and Terry Conner brought them to vaudeville, which led to a career in Hollywood. Director D. Scott Robinson (1998 Butler grad and two-time Encore Award winner for best director of BCP"s Nunsense and Lizzie Borden, and seen onstage recently as the yee-hawin" Miss Texas in Theatre on the Square"s Pageant) summed it up best in his director"s notes: "It"s about the "freak" in all of us. It"s about the struggle we all have looking into the mirror and loving what we see." And Buck Creek pulls off this Broadway cult favorite marvelously. Outside the theater a carnival barker and the tooting of a calliope greet you. Pre-show at 7:30 is a magic performance. But then the real magic begins with the first number. An ensemble of sideshow performers, bathed in an eerie half light, sing "Come Look at the Freaks." You are introduced to Daisy and Violet"s world (and treated to superlative eye-candy in the costumes thanks to costume coordinator Susan Freeman and rentals from Stephen R. Hollenbeck Designs). When we first see the twins, they are sitting on opposite sides of the bleachers, which I though a bit odd. But they soon become "joined at the hip," and slowly you begin to get insights into what their lives must be like. Daisy and Violet have distinct and differing personalities: Daisy is much more outgoing, and Violet"s only wish is for a husband and home. Sometimes their differences can cause problems. Love becomes one of those problems. I fell in love with Amanda Lawson"s voice when she played Lucy in TOTS" Jekyll & Hyde last year, and she was just as good as Violet - if not better - here. I had never heard Robyne Ault (Daisy) before, and was floored at her power and control. The two meshed well, both as the twins (even if a bit awkward moving about sometimes) and as a musical duet. Tim Payne as The Boss (the man who took in the girls and made them a sideshow act) didn"t hit the range the music called for at times, but provided a good overall performance. Dante J.L. Murray as Jake, AKA The Cannibal King, has a remarkable voice, which was best heard in a moving "You Should be Loved." Rob Leffler as Buddy and Jerry Hacker as Terry carried their sung dialog naturally, without ever being stiff or going over the top - unless it was on purpose, like in the goofy "One Plus One Equals Three" with Violet, Daisy and Buddy. Company numbers were strong, fleshing out the big Broadway feel. This really is a stunning show. Brave the road construction down I-74, and when you get there, check out the exhibit in the lobby featuring photos of incarnations of the show and the real Hilton sisters. Side Show continues through Sept. 29. Buck Creek Players is located at 11150 Southeastern Ave.; call 862-2270 for tickets, $12. "1776" Suppose Thomas Jefferson couldn"t muster up enough creative juice to write the all-important Declaration of Independence until he had a colonial shagging session with his newly wedded wife, Martha. Better yet, ponder a congressional session which breaks into a chorus of grown men in powdered wigs singing proposed legislation in an attempt to form the United States of America as we know it today. If these suppositions sound far-fetched, think again. As Broadway flirts with a high school U.S. history textbook, the realm of unthinkable circumstance broadens, bringing audiences the hysterical and humanized account of how men fought and frolicked while creating the framework for America. 1776, now playing at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre, retells the historical saga of the birth of the Declaration of Independence. In a witty and entertaining manner, the story is told through the eyes of the individual founding fathers, each of whom is personified and filled with colorful characteristics almost always overlooked in textbooks and classrooms. These good ol" boys struggle with the fundamental issues involved with revolting against one government and creating a new one. Director Michael J. Lasley and assistant director, choreographer and wife Marnie Lemons pull together a cast and crew consisting of promising new talent and seasoned practitioners of the theatrical arts. Actors Tom Beeler, Bill Hall and Eric Karwisch (playing the roles of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, respectively) all demonstrate a firm grasp of the little quirks that make their characters unique and rightfully charming in their own ways. This threesome, backed up by an equally advanced thespian troop, bring this particular production of 1776 an extra dose of excellence. Two performances worth highlighting are those of Congressman Richard Henry Lee, portrayed by Rusty Bush, and the little role of the Courier, portrayed by Ryan Stutz. Rusty Bush brought an uplifting amount of charisma to the stage, adding barrels of entertainment to the overall production. Ryan Stutz"s tiny but important role was charged with a visceral understanding of performance and a chillingly beautiful delivery of the song "Momma, Look Sharp." In the end, Civic Theatre"s 89th season opener brings laughter, education and wholesome entertainment to a rich period of America"s young history. 1776 continues through Sept. 29; for tickets, call 923-4597. The Civic is located on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

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