"Side Show" returned to Broadway on Monday in a revised version helmed by "Dreamgirls" filmmaker Bill Condon. The musical flopped in 1997 but still managed to earn plaudits and devoted fans for its story about conjoined sisters who perform in a freak show.
The new version, which is playing at the St. James Theatre in New York, features some new songs and other music. The production was recently seen at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the La Jolla Playhouse before its arrival on Broadway.
Actresses Erin Davie and Emily Padgett play Violet and Daisy Hilton -- roles that were first performed on Broadway by Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley. Songwriters Bill Russell and Henry Krieger have reworked the material along with Condon, who at one point wanted to turn the musical into a movie.
Whether "Side Show" will fare better at the box office this time around remains to be seen, but critics have taken a shine to the new production.
Charles Isherwood of the New York Times described the musical as "beautiful and wrenching," adding that the "story and song are knit together with liquid finesse, particularly as newly revised by its authors, with the help of Mr. Condon." The two leads "bring alive the sisters' conflicted but loving relationship with extraordinary grace."
The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney wrote that the revised revival production "maximizes the material's strengths and minimizes its weaknesses, serving up mesmerizing entertainment veined throughout with haunting poignancy." Although the show may "never be a classic musical ... in this superb production it's a hypnotic spectacle that packs an emotional wallop."
Elysa Gardner of USA Today concluded that the lead actresses "make the Hiltons convincing as both sisters and wounded survivors. Their bright, resonant sopranos blend impeccably." The production as a whole is "darkly glittering" and invites us "to question the increasing nonchalance with which we dissect and ridicule public figures of all sorts."
The New York Daily News' Joe Dziemianowicz wrote that the musical has "dramatic inconsistencies and thin characterizations," but nonetheless, "there’s a lot to like about the revised vision." The lead actresses bring the "songs to life with colorful and crystalline sopranos and urgency and feeling to match."