By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Actresses Stirman and Freeman, whose voices blend beautifully, hit all the right beats in this scene, and the rest of the show, too. They are ably supported by Leal and Domuret, who are both oily and attractive, and by big man Keron Jackson as Jake, who finally works up the courage to tell his adored Violet "You Should Be Loved" in an electrifying song that shows off Jackson's acting and impressive vocal range.
Director Jac Alder and choreographer Linda Leonard move their actors around every angle of the small acting space, painting strong visual pictures on Harland Wright's colorful but spare set. Costume designer Patty Korbelic Williams dresses the cast in rich textures and bold colors. Her designs for Violet and Daisy are especially effective, letting them mature from girlish frills and bows in Act 1 to sleekly elegant velvets and silks in Act 2. Musical director Terry Dobson keeps tight control over his small orchestra, perched a level above the acting space, never overpowering the unmiked actors.
Ultimately, the success of Side Show depends on its Hilton sisters. And the two stars of Theatre Three's production are terrific actresses, so evenly matched physically and vocally that it's easy to accept that they're not only sisters but sisters who share the same flesh and blood. Stirman and Freeman play the roles with dignity and a whisper of sadness, as if resigned that whatever stardom their characters find will be offset by unrealized dreams of personal happiness. It's a delicate balance, playing physical closeness but giving each girl a separate identity. Stirman and Freeman are perfectly in tune with each other's rhythms and are absolutely mesmerizing to watch.
The end of Act 2 finds Violet and Daisy left alone, seeking solace in each other as always and expressing it in the haunting ballad "I Will Never Leave You." Although Daisy's goal of becoming a movie star will come true, it won't be as she imagined. They will always be on public display as accidents of nature. The cast of the carnival sideshow returns to the stage to reprise "Come Look at the Freaks," this time daring onlookers to look inside themselves to discover what sets normal apart from abnormal. Side Show leaves its audience disquieted by its subject matter but touched by the honesty of the performances and the universal message of its story.