Side Show Writer Bill Russell Talks Changes and What Fans Can Expect in Broadway Revival
06 Aug 2014
Immediately following the announcement that the 1997 musical Side Show would return to Broadway this fall in a new incarnation helmed by Oscar winner Bill Condon, Playbill.com reached out to the show's Tony-nominated librettist Bill Russell via email to speak about revising the musical as well as what's in store for fans of the original.
The musical will play Broadway's St. James Theatre beginning Oct. 28. It officially opens Nov. 17. Side Show has a score by Tony nominee Henry Krieger, book and lyrics by Tony nominee Russell and additional book material by Condon.
Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, who starred in both the La Jolla and Kennedy Center engagements, will reprise their leading roles as conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton. Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner originated the respective roles of Violet and Daisy Hilton, earning Tony Award nominations for their work.
Despite a short-lived initial Broadway run of only 91 performances, Side Show has garnered a legion of fans and has maintained a strong life in theatres across the U.S.
"The Side Show fans are so passionate," Russell told Playbill.com. "I am constantly moved by people telling me how much the show means to them. The 'cult following' has only grown since the show closed, thanks to the original cast recording of the Broadway production. Practically from the day the original production closed, there has been talk of a Broadway revival. We were certainly hoping for that – not necessarily holding out but waiting for an opportunity that felt right. When the Kennedy Center said they wanted to do a revival, that set the wheels in motion. Our agent, Jack Tantleff, called me with that news in December 2010. He said, 'The Kennedy Center wants to do Side Show.' I said, 'Great!' And then he added, 'In 2014.' That seemed a lifetime away. But it allowed for a lot of planning time and Jack brilliantly brought the La Jolla Playhouse into the mix."
Russell also spoke about reinvestigating the material for the new incarnation along with Krieger and Condon. "It was like opening a big box of delicious candy!" he said. "Mainly because we were doing the re-exploration with Bill Condon, who [in my humble opinion] is a friggin' genius! Taking another look at the show, after time away and in the company of Bill, who is a brilliant writer himself, has been an experience I can barely comprehend, let alone describe. While I love and continue to be proud of the original, I really feel we have collectively strengthened the piece – honing the story, fleshing out characters, finding stronger solutions for moments and beats. Here's what I think longtime fans can expect from this re-working. When we were in La Jolla we ran the first act for Harold Wheeler, our wonderful orchestrator, who did the original production and the new one. At the end of the act, he was in tears and said, 'I fell in love with this show the first time and when you said you were re-working it, I was scared. But it's so much better and yet retains the essence of what it always was.' I'd say that's pretty much been the reaction from the die-hard fans who've seen this new version and it really sums up how I feel about it."