Side Show moves to the Big Top at Blank Canvas Theatre
Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

Side Show. No, I'm not talking about the current politics. I'm referring to the current entertaining production of Side Show, The Musical, "freak" ing out at Blank Canvas Theatre. The Side Show might be on your mind as a result of American Horror Story did a storyline on it just a couple of seasons ago. Who can forget "Lobster Boy" and his sessions with the middle-class housewives. The Circus Side Show was an option to the Big Tent where the major acts performed, with such wild entertainers like the Bearded Lady, Lizard Man, and Tattooed Lady. This musical tells the story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who had a variety and burlesque career in the 1920's and 30's. Their real-life story is incredibly tragic, but this musical does represent many aspects of their lives. The original version opened on Broadway in 1997. However, the revised version of the musical opened in 2014. This revival is a bit darker and expands more on the Hilton's biographical life story. The revised version also offers new songs that are more in tune with the more developed story, while taking out previous songs that didn't seem to resonante with audiences. 

Helming this artistic journey is Patrick Ciamacco, who is the Founder and Artistic Director of Blank Canvas Theatre. He was last seen portraying Sweeney Todd in said musical as the season opener. Theatrical Season that is. I know, to look at me, I have baseball written all over me. Although, I haven't even made it to first base....I digress. He also takes on the Lighting, Sound, Set Design, and brings all the elements together as Technical Director. Accomplishing all of this with professional panache. He also directs the production with adept pace and precise staging. There's not a bad seat in the house.

The show opens as we meet the Boss (John J. Polk), who introduces us to the performers of the Side Show. What a crew it is! The 3 legged man (Andrew Keller), the Geek (Vince Matia), Fortune Teller (Day Ash), Venus de Milo (Julie C. Okuley), Dog Boy (David Lenehan), Half Man/Half Woman (Katie Jerome Taylor), Human Pin Cushion (Jacob Schafer), Lizard Man (Joe Gibson), Bearded Lady (Susan M. Wagner), Tattoo Girl (Leah Kraynak), and the vivacious Bird Girl (Meredith Aleigha Wells). The opening number is fun, and what a blast to see the characters brought to life by costumers Luke Scattergood and Jenniver Sparano.

Daisy Hilton (Becca Ciamacco) and Violet Hilton (Stephanie Harden)  Photo Credit: Andy Dudik

We next meet the Hilton Sisters, Daisy and Violet, played beautifully by Becca Ciamacco and Stephanie Harden. Each sister showing their own personalities as the 
play progresses, Daisy more cautious and outspoken, Violet more sunshine and rabbits. Enter Jake (Daryl Kelley), who also doubles as the Cannibal King in the opening, who definitely defines himself as their protector, and will be sure to warn them about any offers that might come their way. His "The Devil You Know" highlights Kelley's voice and bass masculinity. That protection and advice will be needed as two gentlemen arrive to present a new path. Buddy Foster (a charming Ian Jones), an aspiring musician, brings Terry Connor (a focused, and centered Joel Fenstermaker), a talent scout for the Orpheum Circuit, to check out the act, and propose helping the sisters build a new act, and get them on the circuit with "Very Well Connected."  Buddy teaches them a new song to get their feet wet. And then we move to a fascination flashback series, which addresses previous discussions of cutting them apart when younger. The next section reveals Harry Houdini (entertaining as hell Lenahan, sans dog face) teaching the girls to tune out distractions to find peace. He also hits a note at the end of his song that makes me want to order twelves pizzas and drown myself in root beer because I can't float a note like he can, and as my friends know, I have no head voice. Thank you. The girls do decide to come to the U.S. and perform their brand new number "Ready to Play", which is a blast to watch. After the performance, the sisters are overwhelmed by the affection from Terry and Buddy, interrupted by reporters that are not kind in their questioning, and then the sisters are left in reflection if they ever will be loved. As so many of us do, questions ourselves, and that biting question "Is this really happening." All of this, beautifully performed by Ciamacco and Harden.

The happiness continues for some time, with celebration and dancing numbers that are on point. And then, after watching the evolving relationship with the sisters and Terry and Buddy, Kelley gets to show his true emotions to Violet in a lovely richly layered number "You Should Be Loved." How many of us had someone close to us try to open our eyes to jerks, but we can't see it. And sometimes, that person just is really in love with you. A vivid moment of truth. After some twists and turns, the sisters devise a plan to cash in on their celebrity, and the publicity of an upcoming wedding of Violet and Buddy, who keeps one secret from the press neatly hung in his closet.

The show ends with the power ballad "I Will Never Leave You." Throughout the show, Ciamacco and Harden certainly handle the music well, but in a move that I love, save the fierce vein in the neck belting for the final song. SO effective. They are charming, sweet, funny, and entertaining, and in the end, they open a musical vein that is splendid to absorb.

Fenstermaker creates a defined and masculine persona that works perfectly. Jones is charming as hell. Both have great voices, and Jones owns that high belt. Kelley delivers a brooding effective message. And Polk is a dick as The Boss. And that is a good thing.

This is an entertaining and solid production. Patrick Ciamacco has done us proud. The set design is carnival realness. Ciamacco's Lighting and Sound designs were really great. The Music Director Anthony Trifiletti, a welcome addition, leads an impressive band and certainly guided the vocals in fabulous order. Stage Manager Joy DeMarco called a great show. Costume Designers Jenniver Sparano and Luke Scattergood designed the Hilton Sisters to sublime beauty, and the rest of the ensemble was on point.  They must have had a blast conjuring up the looks for the ensemble. Fun and great work. Excellent Scenic Backdrop work from Noah Hrbek. 

Cleveland Stage Alliance
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

Thru April 28


8pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
7pm Sundays

$18 General Admission

(440) 941-0458
Order Tickets Online

Blank Canvas Theatre
1305 West 80th Street, Suite 211
Cleveland, OH 44102