NOISES OFF-BROADWAY & BEYOND: Closing Down the Side Show and Being a Princess Is a Royal Pain

News   NOISES OFF-BROADWAY & BEYOND: Closing Down the Side Show and Being a Princess Is a Royal Pain
 
Playbill.com writer Harry Haun provides the latest insight into the buzz Off-Broadway and beyond.

Emily Padgett and Erin Davie
Emily Padgett and Erin Davie Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

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PUSHING UP DAISYS AND VIOLETS: A critically cheered, radically revised second-coming of Side Show came to an emotional, premature end Jan. 4 at the St. James Theatre, an apparent fatality of its inherent ick factor.

Despite a rich, melodic score and a complex, compelling story that mined the humanity of the situation, potential patrons simply couldn't wrap their heads around the exploited exploits of conjoined twins and would just rather not.

Daisy and Violet Hilton from Brighton, England, had their extended 15 minutes of fame as carnival curiosities in vaudeville (on the same bill with Bob Hope at times) and in movies (notably, Tod Browning's creepy cult flick, "Freaks") in the 1930s.

The director and re-designer of the show (more of makeover than remake), Bill Condon, took to the stage with the two men he called "the beating heart of this show" (composer Henry Krieger and book writer-lyricist Bill Russell) and did all the talking. "First of all," he said, "I'd like to say one thing to the producers in the audience: 'Oops, sorry.'" He went on to thank them for their generosity and support and regretted that all this turned out to be philanthropy.

"Ours was not the most widely accepted show," he confessed, "but its audience was always the most passionate." The packed house roared back a resounding second.

If Side Show had to leave, it couldn't have left on a more triumphant note. The performance was peppered with standing ovations, and, when the cast of 25 left the stage with a final reprise of "Say Goodbye to the Sideshow," tears flowed freely.

Bill Condon
Bill Condon Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

This Side Show closed on the 46th anniversary of the death of the Hilton sisters with 56 performances, 35 performances less than the original Side Show. That closed Jan. 3, 1998, one day shy of the 29th anniversary of their passing.

Daisy and Violet Hilton's professional career ended abruptly in 1961 after a public appearance at a drive-in cinema in Charlotte, NC where they were dumped by their tour manager. Lacking funds and transportation, they settled in and took jobs at a grocery store. A specially made apparatus was constructed that enabled one of them to work the cash register while the other bagged the groceries. Exploited to the end.

On Jan. 4, 1969, when the twins were late returning to work from the holidays, the police went to their home and found them dead from the Hong Kong Flu. A forensic report revealed that Daisy died first and Violet followed two-to-four days later.

But the music of "I Will Never Leave You" will live on, Broadway Records is said to be shooting for a Valentine Day's release day of the new original cast recording.

A HUSTON A-HUNTING FOR AN OPENING: January 10 was to have been the first time that Anjelica Huston ever set foot on a New York stage.

Unfortunately, the Love Letters she was scheduled to open with Martin Sheen at the Brooks Atkinson folded Dec. 14 — following Candice Bergen and Alan Alda's watch. And she didn't get even a long-distance shot at it.

Anjelica Huston
Anjelica Huston

She has been trying to do a stage play here for 27 years! "I was asked to do Tamara at the Park Avenue Armory in 1987," the "Prizza's Honor" Oscar winner recalled recently. "It was a wonderful piece where the audience follows the actors around from room to room in a very large mansion. I had done the show out in Los Angeles, and I was asked to do it again here in New York, but my father [director John Huston] died, and I decided it just wouldn't be a good time."

Pity! She has proved to be such a "colorful addition" to the Main Stem scene when she portrayed the lady producer on TV's fleeting "Smash" series. She played it like "Splash," slinging drinks in people's faces — a gesture both bracing and memorable.

Anjelica may never have been on a Broadway stage herself, but her movie roles have: Morticia Addams (Bebe Neuwirth) in The Addams Family and Gretta Conroy (Blair Brown) in The Dead — and a third is on the way: Rodmilla, Drew Barrymore's evil stepmother, in Ever After: A Cinderella Story. A musical version of that film — directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall and written by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler — will end Paper Mill Playhouse's 76th season May 21-June 21. Rodmilla hasn't been cast yet, but it's not hard to imagine Donna Murphy (from Marshall's Tony winner, Wonderful Town scaring up a lot of angst and arias.

Did Anjelica imagine those movies would one day turn into future musicals? "No, I certainly did not," she shoots back, "but then I never thought I'd be asked to sing, as I was on 'Smash.' I sang 'September Song,' which my grandfather [Walter Huston] introduced in Knickerbocker Holiday. It was exciting to do — and extremely daunting, but I did it with Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who, of course, are the best in the business. Marc has a little recording studio in his studio downtown, and he does it all right there. It was amazing to work with them — as soon as my heart stopped beating so loudly I knew they could hear it on the playback."

Do you suppose her new autobiography (No. Two) was titled anticipating her Broadway debut? It's called "Watch Me." Or, maybe Broadway's her third life. INTO THE WOODS-LITE: Although Rodgers and Hammertstein (and Beane)'s Cinderella has ridden its pumpkin out of town, there is no shortage of Cinderellas around in the local woodpile.

Into the Woods accounts for two: Anna Kendrick plays one in the omnipresent movie, and Claire Karpen is previewing another Off-Broadway for a Jan. 22 opening at the Laura Pels. Should you care to venture out of that dark forest — and into the handsomely decked-out Theatre at St. Clement's — you'll find a much ditzier Cinderella fluttering through Disenchanted!

She's one of ten storybook princesses from Disney's animation plant — Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, et al — who are royally lampooned by Dennis T. Giacino in a procession of 13 clever, often raucously grown-up musical skits.

He considers Cinderella "the most princess-y of the bunch, someone who was always second and believed what everybody told her — a dumb blonde marching to her own beat." Becky Gulsvig plays her with a vaguely vacuous, goofy grin.

The villain of the piece, which runs till Jan. 25, is something that Giacino calls The Princess Curse. "We've all fallen prey to it. It has some terrible side effects. It tells us to be a certain way. I don't care if it's 'Toddlers & Tiaras' or Barbie dolls or Disney or most of the Bravo shows or Real Housewives. It tells us to be like this, but they're saying, 'I'm here to tell you tonight that this is how this is affecting me. I want you to know I'm not that person you know me as in pop culture. Here's really my true self.'"

The Princess Posse
The Princess Posse Photo by Matthew Murphy

THANKING THEIR LUCKY STARS: "Constellations is brave, bold and deeply affecting, making you at once marvel at both the expanse of the universe and the intimacy of human beings. It's an extraordinary play, and Nick Payne is an extraordinary playwright," says one star about the Payne she's in.

"We often look at the words to find answers, but Nick's writing forces us to look at the space between them. Between each of his words are infinite universes of choice — ephemeral, full of empathy, and completely human," concurs the other.

Thus spoke Ruth Wilson and Jake Gyllenhaal, stars of the love story now previewing for a Jan. 13 bow at Manhattan Theatre Club's Friedman Theatre, on the occasion of the play's publication last month by Faber and Faber.

Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal Photo by Joan Marcus

"The chemistry between them is fantastic," contends the chemist in charge, director Michael Longhurst. "The story is boy-meets-girl, but it's got a twist to it: It's set in the quantum multiburst, which means we see the same story in different parallels and we get to see every permutation of how the relationship could have worked out. It's heart-wrenching, but it makes you kind of appreciate the wonders of the universe and science. Plus, it's just two actors — two incredible actors."

The idea for the play, admits Payne, came stateside — from a theoretical physicist at Columbia University named Brian Greene, via a three-part PBS documentary made from his book, "The Elegant Universe," The playwright just added love and stirred. Constallations lifted off in London two years ago, under Longhurst's direction, starring Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall.

Gyllenhaal, Longhurst and Payne (who sound like a law firm) all bowed Off-Broadway the same year with If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet at the Laura Pels.

BLACK IS THE NEW TRACEE: After her much-praised-and-prized performance of the Hasidic harridan in Bad Jews, Tracee Chimo faded to black.

On Jan. 15, you'll find her in "Blackhat," an action flick that couldn't be more topical. It's about a man released from prison to help the American and Chinese pursue a mysterious cyber criminal. The first was originally called "Cyber."

"It's Michael Mann's new thriller," she said. "I'm one of three female characters in the film — a secretary in an office that has been hacked. Basically, it's all men. Chris Hemsworth and Viola Davis are the stars."

Then there was "Black Box," a medical series that ran for a single season. "I was a nerdy intern doctor and worked with Vanessa Redgrave for two months."

Tracee Chimo
Tracee Chimo

Chimo's biggest catch has been in the Netflix series, "Orange Is the New Black," in which she plays a recurring part in the outside-prison life of the leading character, Piper Chapman. In Season Two her character, Neri Feldman, became Piper's sister-in-law, and the marriage (to Michael Chernus, who played her brother in Second Stage's Lips Together, Teeth Apart) has survived a third season.

"It's a great little recurring role. Neri is a very earthy, crunchy, organic farmer-lady who hunts her own food. I love the cast. It's filled with New York theatre people."

Taylor Schilling, the series' lead, will be re-joining that stage fraternity shortly, via Ivan Turgenev's, A Month in the Country, at Classic Stage Company Jan. 9-Feb. 15. "We're going to get together for coffee soon and we will probably talk about theatre," Chimo said. "She hasn't done a play in a while, but she's really happy about doing one. It's always nice to come back and do one."

She should know. She's coming back to Broadway in more roles (four) than anybody else in the cast of The Heidi Chronicles bowing March 18 at the Music Box.

MISSED MATCH: When the curtain rose on Stephen Belber's Match, Frank Langella was clipping his toenails and saving them in a big fruit jar. He went on to commit other eccentric acts as a Juilliard dance teacher who may or may not have sired a now-grown son (hence, the title). It was a killer workout for Langella, who got noms for the Tony and the Drama Desk. A decade passed with no significant film interest, so Belber opted to direct it himself. Holding out for a more experienced director, Langella passed, and the part went to the equally mellifluous Patrick Stewart. The result, an Official Tribeca Selection, with Matthew Lillard and Carla Gugino, opens Jan. 14.

Reportedly, Langella is saying — with no bitterness — he'd have done a better job.

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