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Side Show In Concert (London Palladium)

(seen on 3rd March 2024)

Musicals about physical deformities are always a hit. "The Phantom of the Opera," "Wicked," "Notre-Dame de Paris," "Legally Blonde"... er... anyway, and now this.

Re-written on Broadway, and first seen in the UK in a triumphant production at Southwark Playhouse in 2016, Southwark's star Louise Dearman returns as Daisy - this time partnered with Rachel Tucker - for a one-night-only concert staging at the most famous variety theatre of them all.

Born in Brighton, England in 1908, co-joined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton were exhibited as sideshow “freaks” from birth. Exploited first by their mother, then a midwife and finally a US freak-show owner. Redemption came as legit “Vaudeville” found them, acting as a springboard to Hollywood.

The real story ended in bankruptcy and abandonment, the Hiltons living out their lives as shop-workers before dying of flu in 1969. This show concentrates on the start of their rise to fame to the cusp of movie stardom – with a large dose of sad manipulation along the way.

Presenting the show in concert format allows the songs to shine, away from the slightly weak book it is burdened with. Allowing the ladies’ minder Jake (Trevor Dion Nicholas) to narrate events rather than sitting through tedious fully acted scenes keeps the story moving and allows us to appreciate the complexities of the score.

Adam Hoskins is always an asset as Music Supervisor, Orchestrator and Arranger for Lambert Jackson musicals-in-concert. His work here is exemplary, when not crashing the sound system (Toby Chevis on excellent form) or goofing off mid-show to play tennis with the cast.

Simply holding hands with an interlocked arm, Dearman and Tucker are linked as two independent people sharing a body. From their defiant introduction “I’m Daisy, I’m Violet” via extrovert “Typical Girls Next Door” and introvert “Feelings You’ve Got To Hide” we continue to learn about them.

“Stuck With You,” “Private Conversation” and “You Should Be Loved” in the second half show yearnings for the normalities of love and personal lives, but it is the climactic “I Will Never Leave You” which stops the show.

A thrilling duet, trailed in a video, prepared nobody for the impact on the night. A full five minutes of the entire audience on their feet applauding had Ms Tucker in tears, struggling but succeeding to finish the show, supported with enormous kind strength by Ms Dearman.

The whole evening had been building up to this event. As Fortune Teller (Gina Murray, beautifully mystical and making the most of her role) foresaw, the twins were destined for stardom, but it was a long climb. 

Around them, only Jake appeared to truly have their interests at heart, Trevor Dion Nicholas giving his thoughts full voice possibly too late, though always a comforting presence.

The ‘likely-lads’ pairing of Bradley Jaden and Tosh Wanogho-Maud as Terry Connor and Buddy Foster – Vaudeville impresario and aspiring performer sidekick, stripped of most sweet-talk in this format are left interestingly exposed.

Left only with the songs when interacting with the twins, it is clearer that the balance in the relationship power is even more one-sided. The fact the men use the women almost entirely for their own career gain is more cruel and shocking here than a larger staging of the show can demonstrate.

Both Jaden and Wanogho-Maud are allowed intimate solo moments and duets, reducing the vast Palladium stage to focus only on the pair – a difficult feat well achieved with the aid of Joseph Ed Thomas's lighting magic batheing them in a glow reflecting emotions and more sinister motives.

Sadly only Adam Filipe as Houdini is given a (deserved) name credit for his supporting role, but other members of the Trinity Laben Conservatoire Ensemble were on hand either with the lead performers or seated behind the orchestra to provide extra characters and lush backing vocals with the rich 14 piece orchestra.

“Side Show” will probably never be a viable commercial option for a full West End run, but as with so many musicals, the quality of its score deserves to live on before a wider audience. This is the perfect way to present it, and ensure that, like the Hilton sisters, the strong and brave are not forgotten.

5 stars, standing ovation given.

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