Everything Old is New Again: Bill Russell, Bill Condon and Emily Padgett Share the Story Behind the Re-Imagined Side Show

By Evan Henerson
11 Nov 2013

Bill Condon

When the seed for Side Show was planted, biographical information about the Hiltons was minimal. Director Robert Longbottom, with whom Russell was collaborating on Pageant, had told him about the performing conjoined twins which he felt had dramatic potential. Longbottom's partner had seen a late-night screening of "Chained for Life" and suggested that they turn it into a musical.

"I immediately said yes," recalled Russell. "I just thought the theatricality of two people moving, singing and dancing together was incredible. This was like in 1985 and in the downtown Manhattan club scene — which I was known to frequent — there were these guys who would go around the clubs like they were joined at the hip. I saw them in 'Heidi' with the pigtails and the lederhosen. I immediately flashed on that."

The arrival of the Off-Broadway musical comedy Twenty Fingers, Twenty Toes, also about the Hilton sisters, in 1989 temporarily derailed Side Show's progress, but Russell and Longbottom eventually circled back to the Hiltons. They needed a composer. Russell had been a longtime admirer of Krieger's work, and he and Longbottom faxed the composer the Side Show idea at a particularly opportune time. Krieger had recently been listening to the song "Learning to Let Go" from Russell's Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens and was both open to the idea and receptive to Russell as a collaborator.

Their first song written together, "I Will Never Leave You" was conceived as a lullaby which the twins would sing to each other. As originally envisioned, Side Show's first act would focus largely on the twins' childhood. But at the thought of having to deal with child labor regulations and the need to cast four sets of 8-year old twins along with child wranglers, teachers and labor laws, that idea went away. So, too, did "I Will Never Leave You."


"When we decided we couldn't have the kids, we figured we'd cut 'I Will Never Leave You,'" said Russell. "David Chase, our musical director, said, 'You can't cut that song,' so we made it their 11-o'clock number and I wrote this intro to set it up as something they sang to each other in their childhood. I was never satisfied with that solution because it was an intentionally simple lyric. In this production, they sing part of it as a flashback when they're talking about their childhood."

The original production polished the stars of Skinner and Ripley, unknowns at the time who were cast as much for their compatibility as for their individual skills. Some things don't change. To cast the revival, Russell and Condon estimate that they saw between 50 and 100 actresses, among them "some significant Broadway divas."