Side Show

Music by Harry Krieger
Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell
Poster design by CAP Designs

April 12 - 14 at 8 PM
April 15 at 2 PM
Power Center

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synopsis | program | photographs | designs

Background Information
While only playing for 120 performances on Broadway, "Side Show" garnered numerous critical accolades and earned four Tony Award nominations in 1998, a tough season on Broadway with competition from "Ragtime," "The Lion King" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel." "Side Show" was nominated for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book of a Musical and Best Actress in a Musical for both Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner who portrayed the Hilton twins. The show gained a loyal following from fans who named themselves the "Freaks." At the show's first regional showing at the TheatreWorks company in Palo Alto, CA, Artistic director Robert Kelley stated "The day the tickets went on sale for "Side Show" was the biggest first day in TheatreWorks history. Ticket orders came from all around the country and Canada. It's become a national event."

"A fascinating mix of old-fashioned Broadway and a sharp, contemporary sensibility."
Vincent Canby, The New York Times

"A dramatic poignancy and urgency, even a refreshingly unsentimental honesty that demands attention."
Clive Barnes, New York Post

"They [the twins] are, finally, ordinary young women trapped in an extraordinary bondage. The combination gives a heightened sense to everyday concerns, with tremendously moving results. A new standard for crackerjack Broadway teamwork."
Ben Brantley, The New York Times

Violet and Daisy Hilton
Two of the most scandalous and dramatic conjoined twins in modern history were undoubtedly Violet and Daisy Hilton. They were born joined at the hip in Brighton, England, on February 5, 1908. According to the official biography written as part of their stage act, their mother was unmarried so the babies were quickly and quietly sold to a local midwife. Their guardian, Mrs. Mary Hilton, was a tyrant who held the twins against their will for nearly twenty years. She forced them into a life in show business where they sang, danced, and played the saxophone and violin. They spent their youth touring Europe and Australia, they were taken to San Antonio, Texas, and by 1931 were a hugely popular act on the American vaudeville circuit. Following a dramatic escape and court case, Violet and Daisy finally gained their independence.
The Hilton sisters' career, now under their own control, blossomed. They performed in the 1932 film "Freaks" and several years later starred in "Chained for Life," a lurid tale in which one sister stands accused of murder, but questions are raised as to the fairness of sending her to jail if her innocent sister must go as well. Both sisters eventually married, but neither of their marriages were successful. Daisy's marriage to performer Buddy Sawyer lasted ten days; Violet's wedding in The Cotton Bowl as part of the 1936 Texas Centennial was perhaps the peak of the Hiltons' fame. By the 1960s, their careers had ended. Violet and Daisy lived for several years in North Carolina, where they worked in a local grocery store as check-out clerks. In January, 1969, Violet and Daisy died of complications from influenza.

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The Musical Theatre Department will bring an innovative new work to the Power Center when it presents Henry Krieger and Bill Russell's "Side Show." Behind its gorgeous music and carefully crafted lyrics is a story about two bright and beautiful young women who were joined together at the hip - literally. Side Show is a musical about Violet and Daisy Hilton, a real-life set of conjoined twins who were inseparably connected together for life.

No matter how beautifully and skillfully it's presented, there is sometimes an instinctive fear about people born with a difference. And unfortunately, conjoined twins have been called a lot of nasty names over the years: "nature's mistakes," "monsters," and "freaks." Yet "Side Show" is able to transcend this injustice to show the humanity and bravery of two talented women. The Hilton sister's unusual story follows an almost Dickensian plot so laden with heartbreak and triumph it almost defies the imagination.

The Hiltons were born in Brighton, England, in 1908, to an impoverished, unmarried, sixteen year-old barmaid named Kate Skinner; the girls never knew their father. The infants were "sold" two weeks after their birth to the midwife who delivered them. This woman, whom the girls called "Auntie," became their guardian and manager. She was a cruel mistress who used to regularly beat her wards with the buckle-end of a belt. Violet and Daisy were given music and dance lessons as soon as they were able to walk and talk, and were placed on exhibit by the time they were three. When they reached America in 1916, they were already a sensation throughout Europe and Australia. Their act was top-notch and brought in tens of thousands of dollars, but the sisters never saw their earnings. Their "management" stole every farthing they made.

Most conjoined twins at that time - if they survived infancy - were either hidden away in asylums for life, or put on display in circuses, midways, and "dime museums." Complete strangers would gawk at them for a price and they became objects of curiosity and comment for the sneering crowd. Not so the Hilton sisters. For them, the gaudy canvas bannerline of the freak show was replaced by the vaudeville stage. The Hilton's had genuine talent. Theirs was the world of variety, comedy, song, and dance, all under the watchful eye of "Auntie" and her numerous beaus.

When they were 23, Violet and Daisy found the courage to sue their management in a court of law. Their trial, which played to a packed courtroom in San Antonio, Texas, resulted in genuine liberation. They were now free to live their lives as they chose within the limits of their condition.

Daisy was attracted to the excitement of show business and wanted to make it her life, while Violet was more demure; she wanted to settle down and raise a family. They had to find ways to accommodate each other. This potentially irresolvable conflict was rectified after they met the famous magician Harry Houdini while the two acts were sharing the stage at a vaudeville house in Detroit. The "King of Handcuffs" advised them to "live in your minds, girls. It is your only hope for private lives. Just recognize no handicap."

Taking his advice to heart, they were soon able to keep separate lives. They developed a remarkable ability to keep their sense of autonomy intact; when one sister had a date, the other could doze, or read a book. In 1936, Violet married dancer James Moore at the Cotton Bowl during the Texas Centennial in front of an estimated 50,000 people. It was a publicity stunt to be sure, and the marriage was later annulled. Daisy was married to song-and-dance man Buddy Estep in 1941, but like her sister's marriage, this one was also annulled.

After their performing careers were over, Violet and Daisy moved to Florida and operated a fruit stand. Their final days were times of poverty; they spent their last few years working in the produce department of a supermarket in Charlotte, North Carolina. The two women died on January 4, 1969, of complications from the Hong Kong Flu.

"Side Show" only tells part of this story, but it tells it very well. It's a great musical about two remarkable women. So, we hope that after our string of sell-out performances of the classics - "The Music Man," "West Side Story," "Candide," and "A Little Night Music" - you'll have as much fun with this contemporary Broadway hit. Come to "Side Show."

Press Release
ANN ARBOR - The University of Michigan's Musical Theatre Department presents the inspirational musical "Side Show." A heart-warming story of two sisters searching for love and fame, Side Show will run for four performances from April 12th through April 15th at the Power Center for the Performing Arts in Ann Arbor. Inspired by the true story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, the musical touches on the universal need for acceptance and the strength of the human spirit.

Daisy and Violet Hilton were born in 1908 to an impoverished, unmarried, sixteen year-old barmaid in England. Joined at the base of their spine, the girls were sold by their mother to Mary Hilton who immediately began to showcase the girls. Trained to sing, dance, and play instruments, the twins became popular in Europe, moving to the United States in 1916. By the time Daisy and Violet were 15, they were among the highest paid performers in the nightclub and vaudeville circuit, although the girls were virtually enslaved by their guardian. At the age of twenty-three, the twins were freed by a San Antonio court order to embark on a career of their own as the "Hilton Sisters Revue." A brief film career in the B-grade films "Freaks" (1932) and "Chained for Life" (1951) marked their heyday.

Robert Longbottom was working with writer/lyricist Bill Russell on Russell's musical Pageant when he chanced upon "Chained for Life" and mentioned the story of the Hiltons to Russell. Fascinated by the story, Russell contacted composer Henry Krieger to collaborate on a musical based on the twin's lives. Krieger, who has earned Tony Awards for his scores for Dreamgirls and The Tap Dance Kid, jumped on the project. "Side Show" opened to critical acclaim on Broadway in October of 1997. Vincent Canby of the "New York Times" declared the show "a fascinating mix of old-fashioned Broadway and a sharp contemporary sensibility." Despite its critical success, the show floundered in sales, announcing its close in January of '98. Response to the closing was immediate, with fans holding rallies on Times Square urging people to see the show and Rosie O'Donnell featuring the cast twice on her talk show, ultimately selling out the final two weeks of the production. In a year filled with outstanding musicals on Broadway including "Ragtime" and "The Lion King," "Side Show" garnered an astonishing three Tony Award nominations for best musical, score, and book of a musical. In a surprising move, the combination of Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley was nominated for a Tony Award for best actress in a musical for their portrayal of Daisy and Violet. While its Broadway run was modest, "Side Show" has been produced extensively in regional theatres to continued critical acclaim and commercial success.

"The musical has a really special impact on the people who see it. There's something about it that brings people together," asserts director/choreographer Linda Goodrich. "We are all misfits in some way. Being at a vulnerable time in their lives and searching for self-identity, the students in the show can relate to the struggle of the Twins. It's something that speaks to them and to everyone. As we search for acceptance we recognize the differences in each other, whether it's a personality trait or physical difference. Rather than using our differences as justification for relational superiority, the play challenges us to seek self acceptance by embracing our individualities." Krieger and Russell's work underlines these thoughts with moving songs such as "Who Will Love Me As I Am," "You Should Be Loved," and the finale "I Will Never Leave You."

The story begins at the carnival where Daisy and Violet Hilton are the main attraction of the sideshow. A talent scout named Terry Connor happens to be in the audience and immediately spots the musical gift of the Hiltons. He and his friend Buddy Foster contrive to meet the girls in an attempt to lure them to vaudeville. The twins are unsure about leaving the security of the sideshow, but Daisy's dreams of fame lead them to take the plunge. Buddy coaches Daisy and Violet in song and dance routines while Terry works the media to make the girls celebrities. As their success grows on the Vaudeville circuit, love begins to bloom between Buddy and Violet as well as between Daisy and Terry. When Buddy proposes to Violet, Daisy hopes that Terry will propose a double wedding, but the pressures of society start to wear on the couples.

Scenic designer Arthur Ridley ("Sweeney Todd") has created an environment that covers over a dozen locations, from the carnival to the Texas Centennial. MFA costume-design graduate Erika Furey, whose designs were last seen in "Volpone," joins the artistic team to provide "Side Show's" over 150 costumes. Aaron Sporer, a talented undergraduate student in the Dept. of Theatre and Drama whose designs were seen last fall in "Of Thee I Sing," will do lighting. New-York-City-based conductor Ben Whiteley once again joins the Musical Theatre Department for its spring production having conducted "Cabaret," "Candide," and "West Side Story" in previous years.

Ticket prices are $20 and $15 with students only $7 with ID. Tickets are available at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League on UM Central Campus. The Ticket Office is open from 10am - 6pm, Monday through Friday. Reservations may be made by phone at (734) 764-0450 using MasterCard, Visa and Discover.

The Power Center for the Performing Arts, located at 121 Fletcher Street, is handicapped accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for hearing enhancement.
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Act I - The Boss introduces the exhibits in his sideshow "Come Look at the Freaks," including his star attraction the Siamese twins, Daisy and Violet. Buddy Foster, an aspiring musician, brings Terry Connor, a talent scout for the Orpheum Circuit, to see the Siamese twins. Buddy thinks he could help them create an act and convinces Terry to meet them. After the Boss rudely refuses Terry's offer to be cut in on the twins' potential vaudeville career, Terry devises a scheme whereby Buddy will teach the girls a song. Jake, an African-American who plays the Cannibal King in the sideshow and is the twins' friend and protector, begs them to consider what they're getting into and the whole sideshow family adds its opinion. Before their secret late-night performance, the twins confess to each other how infatuated they are with the two men who've come into their lives. The Hilton Sisters' secret debut is a great success, but the Boss discovers the subterfuge and physically threatens the twins when they tell him they're leaving the sideshow. Jake comes to their rescue and the other attractions threaten to leave also, causing the Boss to back down. Daisy, Violet and Jake, whom Terry has invited to help backstage on the twins' tour, bid farewell to their sideshow family. Before their vaudeville debut, the twins argue about their different ways of expressing interest in men. After the twins' performing triumph, Terry and Buddy shower them with kisses. A hostile reporter asks tough questions about the girls' love life. Terry and Buddy deny any romantic inclinations, leaving the twins to wonder if they will ever find romantic fulfillment.

Act II - The Hilton Sisters are at the height of their success. Daisy's dream of stardom has come true but Violet seems no closer to her dream of finding a husband. At a fancy New Year's Eve party, Buddy tries to cheer up Violet and ends up proposing marriage. Afterwards, Terry imagines what it would be like to be alone with Daisy. In an onstage number, Buddy, Violet and Daisy issue an upbeat invitation to their wedding. But backstage both Daisy and Buddy separately express doubts as to how the arrangement will work. Jake overhears Buddy and, in an effort to save Violet from seemingly imminent heartbreak, confesses that he has loved her for years. The night before Violet and Buddy's wedding as the grand finale of the Texas Centennial, Daisy is feeling left out. To appease her, Terry suggests going where they could be more-or-less alone together, the tunnel of love. The big day arrives. Hawkers sell tickets and souvenirs. But in the dressing area, complications arise. Jake announces he is leaving. Buddy confesses he's not strong enough to marry Violet. Daisy offers a solution which will ensure a movie contract dependent on the wedding publicity. Terry cannot bring himself to publicly acknowledge what he feels for Daisy. She dismisses him and insists that Violet and Buddy go through with the ceremony, which will at least benefit everyone’s career. Left alone, the twins find solace in each other. As the wedding proceeds, they reprise "Come Look at the Freaks" with full understanding and acceptance of who they are and what they are doing.

Click here to view the Side Show program as a PDF file

Production Photographs

Nathan Younger as The Boss
and Jeff Meyer as the Geek
"Come See the Freaks"
Justin Miller as Jake
"The Devil You Know"
"The Devil You Know"

"The Devil You Know"
Robert Rokicki as Terry Connor
and Ryan Patrick Binder as Buddy Foster
"More Than We Bargained For"
Leslie Henstock as Daisy Hilton, Nathan Younger, Cian Coey as Violet Hilton, Justin Miller
"Crazy, Deaf, and Blind"

Robert Rokicki with the Reporters
"Overnight Sensation"
Robert Rokicki, Leslie Henstock,
Cian Coey and Ryan Patrick Binder
"Overnight Sensation"
Leslie Henstock and Cian Coey
"We Share Everthing"

"Rare Songbirds on Display"
"New Year's Eve"
Leslie Henstock, Cian Coey
and Ryan Patrick Binder
"One Plus One Equals Three"

Robert Rokicki, Leslie Henstock,
Cian Coey and Ryan Patrick Binder
"Tunnel of Love"
Leslie Henstock and Cian Coey
"I Will Never Leave You"

Production Designs
Costume Designs by Erika Furey

The Boss The sheik and his harem Jake

Buddy Foster Pip & Flip Terry Connor

Egyptian Costumes
for "We Share Everything"
Twins outfits for "New Year's Eve" Bird Follies