THE SHOW GOES ON: Side Show has unfortunately departed from The Great White Way; however, a high-energy cast recording from Sony Records perfectly captures the musical's spirit. Although one wishes the writers had delved deeper into the lives of Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, the show that was created was a moving tribute to anyone who is different.
From the opening number, "Come Look at the Freaks," the new recording is captivating, with its eerie first notes and the pleas of the side show attractions. What is so heart-wrenching about the musical and the CD is not just the Hilton sisters' desire for "normalcy" but the plight of all the side show performers who have been cast aside by a society that labels them as "freaks." As moving as it is when Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley sing "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" at the end of the first act, it is only when the rest of the cast lend their voices to echo the same sentiment that the show truly tugs at the listener's heartstrings.
If the lyrics (by Bill Russell) don't always rise to the level of the glorious music (by Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger), it is still one of the better scores to have emerged in the past few seasons. From the aforementioned opening to the final anthem, "I Will Never Leave You," there are soaring tunes throughout: You will delight in the gospel-tinged "The Devil You Know," the heartwarming "Like Everyone Else," "Tunnel of Love" and others.
As far as the individual performances are concerned, the standouts are, of course, Ripley and Skinner as the Hilton sisters, who manage to bring dignity and charm to these ladies. Skinner portrays the outgoing Daisy, and she offers a winning performancewith a sweet personality and a beautiful voice that is inspiring. Ripley, as the more introverted Daisy, is able to express both her character's courage and despair while belting up a storm. And, together, the women offer a wonderfully acted and terrifically sung performance.
Norm Lewis must also be singled out for praise, possessing perhaps the most beautiful male voice on Broadway, a baritone with one of the creamiest, rich vibratos around. When he pours out his voice on "You Should Be Loved," it is a thrilling moment.
SOUND BYTES: The New Broadway Cast Recording of 1776, which recently moved from the Roundabout to the Gershwin Theatre, is now available from TVT Records.
-- By Andrew Gans