Daisy and Violet Hilton are far from “Freaks”
by Michele Black
On Sunday May 3, Thehollywoodtimes.net had the opportunity to catch 3D Theatricals incredible production of “Side Show The Musical” currently in its final run at Fullerton’s historic Plummer Auditorium; closing date Sunday, May 10th 2:00pm. This isn’t T.J Dawson’s first time directing “Side Show” he undertook smaller productions of this seldom seen musical in 2006 and again in 2007. Dawson does a spectacular job of directing this 5-time Tony Award nominated production that first made its appearance on Broadway in 1997.
“Side Show” demands, if not forces, the audience to sit up and take notice of the heart-wrenching message that Daisy and Violet Hilton so courageously and poignantly convey – that they are not “freaks”, but two incredibly strong women, with the desire to be loved, heard and accepted for who they are – conjoined twins with opinions, hopes and dreams, just like everyone else. It’s a difficult story to take in and hard to imagine their struggles and rejections. The twin’s first rejection was by their mother at birth, who felt she was being punished for having the girls out of wedlock. As a result of that thinking the girl’s mother sold them to Mary Hilton, whom the girls called “Auntie.” Sadly, Auntie was far from a loving “Auntie,” she put the girls on display in the back of a bar for anyone who would pay money to see them. The twins were traveled around the world being mistreated, abused and handled like property more than humans. It was a simply heartbreaking beginning for the talented, sweet girls. “Side Show” picks up the twins’ story in the depression era where they were performing as the main attraction in a Texas Side Show. With a stand out cast- Afton Quast (Daisy), Jeanette Dawson (Violet), Gary Brintz (Buddy), Jay Donnell (Jake), Gregg Hammer (Terry), Nathan Holland (The Boss, Todd Browning), and backed by a phenomenal ensemble, as well as an incredible orchestra lead by conductor and musical director Allen Everman, who brings the lyrics and book by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger to astounding heights. Here’s an interesting tidbit about the orchestra that T.J Dawson mentioned during intermission: “The orchestra is so big for this production (over 20 pieces); it had to be divided between the pit and the back of the stage due to its size.”
“Side Show” is truly a sight to behold, from the opening number “Come Look At The Freaks” sang with jarring intensity by Nathan Holland and company, as the audience is introduced to the “oddities” of the Side Show – consisting of a Dolly Dimples, Half Man/Half Woman, Reptile man, The Cannibal King, Three legged man, Snake Girl, and many others. With the set designed by Stephen Gifford, I really felt as if I were at a Side Show, and then on Vaudeville with the twins. The sets are beautifully staged, from the rafters in the opening number to the girls in the ornate songbird cage, to the tunnel of love – just breathtaking, set after set. Then there are the costumes by Kate Bergh. Bergh does an absolutely amazing job with the cast costumes. Some pieces are absolutely stunning, my favorite being the number “Rare Songbirds On Display.” Leslie Stevens, the choreographer, does a stellar job of moving the cast of 26 around the stage with such precision; it is a sheer delight for the eyes to behold.
And then there’s that story – the unbelievably true story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton and their lifetime pursuit of love, normalcy and acceptance. Their very names harken thoughts of fragile beauty. While the twins are beautiful, they are far from fragile. They’re feisty, opinionated and at times funny. “Side Show” broke my heart, and stirred up feelings of anger and sadness at society and a world that could be so completely cruel, greedy and thoughtless toward those that are different.
“Side Show” has it all from heartbreak to hope, as well as beautiful duets by Quast and Dawson; and stellar numbers like “Say Goodbye To The Freak Show,” “Tunnel Of Love”, and “Who Will Love Me As I Am” by the Company and other cast members, all strategically woven throughout the story– favorites of mine are “When I’m By Your Side,” “Like Everyone Else” and “I Will Never Leave You”. Performers that touched my heart definitely kind hearted, nothing like the Cannibal King at all; Jay Donnell (Jake) with his pure devotion to the girls and his love for Violet. Donnell’s “You Should Be Loved” sang with such authentic love in his voice for Violet your heart breaks for him, simply gorgeous; Donnell and company once again brings the music with “The Devil You Know” simply outstanding.
“Tunnel Of Love” grandly staged, sang, choreographed and orchestrated by Brintz, Hammer, Quast, Dawson and the company, was a show stopper for me. Playing the ugly side of sincere to the hilt was Hammer as Terry Connor with his slick as glass talk of a better life for the twins; charm and good looks, this guy had me hating him by the end of the show. Followed by a close second is Brintz, who plays Buddy Foster with aspirations of his own of making it big as a musician, all the while professing his love for Violet only to break her heart after he realizes he can’t possibly go through with marrying her, when the reality of being married to a conjoined twin hits home. Brintz and Hammer’s duet “More Than We Bargained For” is uncomfortable to hear, as the girls are about to leave the Side Show for what they are led to believe would be a life of ease and love. This number almost makes the audience want to stand up and yell to the girls “DON’T DO IT!!”
Loved, loved, loved the raw emotions of Quast (Daisy) and Dawson (Violet) who did an outstanding job of taking the audience on a mind spinning journey into the raw, real, heartbreaking and hopeful adventure that was their life. Gorgeous, truthful, heart tugging, sincere duets such as “When I’m By Your Side”, “Leave Me Alone”, and “I Will Never Leave You” invite you into the private hell of what it must have been like for them. All in all “Side Show” is not to be missed. With one week left to see this emotionally charged, beautifully executed musical I’d advise you to get your tickets right away. “Side Show” is a show that will change your life! Lastly, I will never use the term “joined at the hip” again without thinking of Daisy and Violet Hilton and all they went through. Their story touched my life, it truly did.
I had an opportunity to speak with Jay Donnell who does a tremendous job of playing “Jake” right after the show, what a lovely man he is, and so willing to chat! Also, Afton Quast who does an extraordinary job of playing “Daisy” was kind enough to answer some questions for me via email. Both their answers to my questions are unedited below.
Afton Quast- “Daisy”
Please tell us your feelings on being cast as Daisy?
1) Being cast in this was such a blessing because Jeanette, Jay and I all did the show 8 years ago together when we were all babies. The idea of getting to come back to this show and character with some more life experience was very exciting. Also, this version of the show is rarely done, so getting to sing this fantastic score and tell this story is something very special.
Describe what the experience is like being attached to Violet for so many hours- What are your thoughts on the material? You both do such an amazing job!
2) This experience has been wonderful for me. I’m lucky in the fact that the girl I’m stuck to for 3 hours is someone I think of as a sister already. As you can imagine, staying attached to someone while you walk around, let alone dance and sing, is a big challenge. The show is also almost all singing and is quite a powerful story, so it can be very emotionally and physically draining. With that being said, the show has such a powerful message of love and learning to love each other exactly as we are that it’s far more rewarding than tiring. It’s a special show and a very special cast, so I think we are all cherishing every moment of it. Most audiences tend to come in thinking “wait…this show is about Siamese twins????” but by the end I think we win them over. Everyone can see themselves in one of the twins and relate to feeling different and wanting to be normal. We may all go about finding that love in different ways (as you see in the show my character daisy wants fame and Violet wants to have a family) but we all just want to be loved as we are. That’s what makes the show so special. It’s got a very relatable human message.
Jay Donnell – “Jake”
1) How did you feel when you booked the role and show?
Of course I was FREAKING excited! Jake is a dream role of mine and has been ever since I heard the cast recording in 1997, and discovered one of my idols, Norm Lewis. One of my agents at BBR called, and said, “Get ready to be shirtless….YOU GOT IT!!” I screamed and did a happy dance in my living room. After a few auditions, I was on pins and needles, and knew that TJ Dawson and the team were still looking at other guys for the role (due to Equity contracts, and to give everyone a chance to be seen).
2) What are your thoughts about the Show? The Character you played? The show’s Material? The audience responses?
At the core this show is about acceptance, love and being loved in return for being exactly who you are regardless of skin color, handicaps, or “oddities.” Many are put off by the use of the word “FREAK,” but what the show is saying is that we all have something that makes a “freak;” or, at times those things that we hate or dislike about ourselves but have no control over. For Jake, he’s in love with Violet, and would do anything for her. He knows all she wants is “nice husband, and home.” He’s willing to offer her that and more. He’s never once concerned that she’s attached to another because he sees her for who she truly is, and individual. When she reveals that she cannot bear to love him because of the color of the skin, it is the ultimate blow to Jake, and for the first time Jake sees the “ugliness” in her. She says, “I couldn’t bear what they would say, if I loved you that way!” OUCH!!
I am so happy that this show is being so well received. In a time when there is a lot going on in the world, many people want to go to the theatre to escape, and “feel happy.” Not many can handle how dark or heavy this show is, but when they watch the show in its entirety, they are blown away, and moved (we hope)! Personally, I’ve dealt with racism, and believe or not I STILL DO from time to time, and even in this industry. I’m pulled over for no reason, looked at accusingly when walking into certain stores, or told to “be more black, do those riff things” at auditions even, it’s crazy!! So I can relate to Jake and really can connect to him on many levels.
I hope that word of mouth continues to get out about this, and we have a SOLD OUT closing weekend next week. This show that TJ, Allen, Leslie, the crew, orchestra, creative team, and AMAZING cast have crafted is NOT one to be missed!!
Side Show Ticket Information:
3D Theatricals “SIDE SHOW THE MUSICAL” plays through May 10
Fullerton’s Plummer Auditorium
201 E.Chapman Avenue
Fullerton, Ca 92832
Remaining Show Dates
Thursday May 7, 8:00pm
Friday May 8, 8:00pm
Saturday May 9, 2:00pm and 8:00pm
Sunday May 10, 2:00pm
Ticket prices: Presale tickets are on sale now for $20.00- $70.00. Ticket Handling Fee: $3.00 Per Ticket. Online Ticketing www.3dshows.com Group and Student discounts are available
Remote Box Office: 714 589-2770, Ext. 1. Hours: 11:00AM- 5:00PM Monday- Friday: 12:00- 4:00pm Saturday.
Theater Box Office Hours: Two hours prior to performances at the theater.
PO BOX 6039
Long Beach, CA 90806
714-589-2770 ext 1
Michael Sterling /Michael Sterling & Associates
Photos by Isaac James Creative and Linita Masters