By Susan Bonicillo
Photo courtesy of Misty Cherie Boler
Jessica Dorman and Alison Pahler play the conjoined twin sisters Daisy and Violet Hilton in Arizona Repertory Theatre's presentation of 'Side Show,' which starts tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 20, 2005
It was perhaps just a few inches of skin, the area encompassing the buttocks and hips. The surface area wasn't that much when you think about it, but it was just enough, effectively trapping two individuals within the same body.
That was the disfiguration that brought conjoined twin sisters Daisy and Violet Hilton to the stages of Vaudeville before adoring audiences during the Depression.
Through this oddity brought the Hilton twins much success, however, it would also give them pain.
The musical "Side Show," which is being presented by the Arizona Repertory Theatre at the UA, tells their story.
A musical described by director and School of Theatre Arts associate professor Richard T. Hanson as "a modern opera," the production features little dialogue and relies heavily on its pop Broadway score, a melding of contemporary and period music that connects the present and the past musically to communicate their story, according to Hanson.
For the actors involved, the roles are a vast departure from anything they've ever done before.
For the principals, the process of moving as one set posed many challenges.
"Just learning how to walk was difficult," said musical theatre senior Jessica Dorman, the actress portraying Daisy Hilton. "We have to move a lot during the show but there is no special costume that we wear, we just stick close together during the performance."
"Creating the illusion of the conjoined twins was interesting," Hanson said. "After a few weeks of rehearsal, Alison and Jessica became "one," and now it seems odd to see them apart. So we found out that 'normal' is relative."
The uniqueness of this tale continues not only in the physical element of the show but also emotionally, with these two very different people who were sharing the same body.
"It was also difficult for the actors to learn choreography with this physical limitation, but we really learned to appreciate what the Hilton Sisters accomplished in life," Hanson said.
By far, Daisy Hilton is the more ambitious of the two.
"She wants to pursue a life of fame and fortune and normality but has to do so in confinement," Dorman said.
Of course life is nothing if there is no conflict, so sister Violet, played by musical theatre senior Alison Pahler, is naturally the exact opposite.
"Violet wants to be just like anyone else, wants to fall in love, and she does get married eventually, but it's a sham," Pahler said.
Yes, the issue of conjoined twins in love is brought up (the Hilton twins did marry several times in real life) and the physical limitations of being conjoined creates some terribly uncomfortable moments.
The twins' manager Terry Conner, who falls for Daisy, is described by musical theatre senior Joey Snider as arrogant, self-centered and narcissistic.
"I really enjoyed playing the asshole for once," Snider said.
Buddy Foster, played by musical theatre sophomore Kyle Harris, is Violet's paramour and also a friend of Terry Conner.
"He's a fun-loving guy who loves the spotlight, full of energy, always moving," Harris said.
"Side Show" features not only the oddity of conjoined twins but also a collection of other freak show staples such as a bearded lady, a reptile man and a hermaphrodite whose character is called "He/She."
"Dealing with issues of deformity, racism and what is normal made the cast examine their own sensibilities," Hanson said.
But when it comes down to it, the musical asks if a freak can find love and acceptance in this world of normal, as evidenced by songs titles such as "Who will love me as I am?"
"The ultimate meaning of the show is that no matter how far any of us get away from the side show. We cannot escape who we are. And finally, the acceptance of self is more important than the acceptance of others," Hanson said.
Previews for "Side Show," with music by Henry Krieger and lyrics by Bill Russell are tomorrow and Monday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The musical runs at 7:30 p.m. from Wednesday through Oct. 29, Nov. 3 - 5, and Nov. 10 -12. Matinees are Oct. 30, Nov. 5, 6, 12 and 13 at 1:30 p.m.
Ticket prices are $29 for general admission, $27 for senior citizens and UA employees, $21 for students and $20 for previews. Call or visit the UA Fine Arts Box Office for tickets, 520-621-1162.
All performances are in the UA's Marroney Theatre (southeast corner of Park Avenue and Speedway Boulevard).