EXCLUSIVE: "Another Opening!" Bill Russell and Henry Krieger On Returning to Side Show

News   EXCLUSIVE: "Another Opening!" Bill Russell and Henry Krieger On Returning to Side Show
 
Side Show, the cult favorite musical that closed after a short run on Broadway in 1998, is returning almost 20 years later in a re-imagined production. The show’s original creators, Bill Russell and Henry Krieger, open up to Playbill in an exclusive essay about returning to the beloved twins Daisy and Violet.

Bill Russell and Henry Krieger
Bill Russell and Henry Krieger Photo by Timmy Blupe

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We are in a state of excited anticipation just a few days away from the opening night of Side Show on Broadway; it's not an unfamiliar feeling for us. The original production of Side Show, directed by Robert Longbottom, opened on Broadway in 1997, in what we both recall as a magical evening. That production, despite the fact that it only played for four months, managed to find an incredibly loyal fan base that has only grown year after year, thanks to the enduring popularity of its original cast recording.

Amongst the fans of that production was an up-and-coming writer and director named Bill Condon (who, at the time, was just a few months away from winning an Oscar for his screenplay of "Gods and Monsters").

Read the Playbill.com feature: Side Show Director Bill Condon Enters the Broadway Circus With Re-Imagined Cult Favorite

Emily Padgett and Erin Davie at the first-preview curtain call
Emily Padgett and Erin Davie at the first-preview curtain call Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Years later, when Bill Condon was working with Henry on the film adaptation of Dreamgirls, he revealed his affection for Side Show. He described having an almost magnetic attraction to its subject matter and music. Henry asked if he would be interested in directing a stage musical and he enthusiastically replied, "Would I ever! I'd really love to direct Side Show." Almost immediately after the original production played its final performance people started asking us about the possibility of bringing it back. The prospect of working on a rethinking with Condon was exhilarating. We had ten years of distance from the original production, and felt poised to reexamine every syllable and note.

Read the 1997 Interview with Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley, Two Hopefuls on the Verge of Stardom and Failure in Side Show

We showed up to our first meeting with Condon to find him with piles of historical books about sideshows, and copies of every single draft of the show we had ever written. He was referencing songs that had been cut long before the show ever got on its feet, a few of which we had forgotten we had even written. The man had done his homework.

Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley in the original production of <i>Side Show</i>
Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley in the original production of Side Show

One of our goals was to strengthen the story, with an emphasis on fleshing out the male characters. A lot of long-abandoned ideas from those early drafts re-emerged. We had originally planned to open the show with Daisy and Violet as young girls. In fact, the song "I Will Never Leave You" used to come towards the beginning of the show, sung by young Daisy and Violet. When we made the decision to open the show later in their lives, that song got moved to Act II. The number proved powerful in its new context, but it was never a wholly satisfying solution for us as the lyrics were intentionally simplistic, in the voices of little girls. In this new version, we've added a flashback scene in Act I to get a sense of the girls' childhood. That song is now introduced in that flashback, and then reprised in its entirety in Act II. This is just one example of how we were able to delve back in and rework the show. There are many more.

Read the Playbill.com feature: As Side Show Bows Again on Broadway, Its Writers Recall the Last Performance of the 1997 Original

In addition to the ten years of distance and Condon's willingness and encouragement in re-examining every moment of the show, the other great gift in this process was the luxury of having not one, but two out-of-town runs before coming to Broadway. In 1997, we opened "cold" in New York. The first time the show was ever in front of a live audience was on a Broadway stage. This time around, we were able to get it on its feet at the La Jolla Playhouse, where we made extensive changes (including a mostly sung version of the twins' trial to win their freedom from Sir). Then after another period of rewrites, we got to do it again at the Kennedy Center, where we again made extensive changes (including a new sequence at the Texas Centennial using music of a song we cut from the original). You learn so much from seeing your show performed in front of an audience. By the time we started previews in New York, after we had re-thought the sung trial sequence, we felt ready to share the new version with Broadway audiences.

Read reviews from the Kennedy Center run here.

How lucky we feel to now have had two wildly varied Broadway productions, both with visionary directors at the helm. Not unlike Daisy and Violet Hilton, we like to think of the two versions as sisters – forever linked, but each beautiful in its own distinct way. So here we are again, in that familiar state of excited anticipation. Whatever happens on Monday night, we couldn't be happier to have Side Show on Broadway once again.

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