Cheers and Tears at Closing Night of Side Show

News   Cheers and Tears at Closing Night of Side Show
The applause began as soon as the house lights went down to start the final performance of Side Show on Broadway Jan. 3.

As the cast members took their places for the opening number, "Come Look at the Freaks," the audience, consisting mainly of friends, family and supporters who had been mounting a campaign to save the show, erupted.

"The audience just went Looney Toons," said Barry Siegel, one of the organizers of the campaign, who was sitting in row C, seat 6 of the front mezzanine.

"People shot up out of their seats," said Andrea Prince, Playbill On-Line's former editorial assistant. "As the cast came onto the stage, they could see us standing and applauding."

That's pretty much the way the entire Saturday evening performance went. The $7 million show about Siamese twin sisters in vaudeville closed Jan. 3 after a disappointing 91-performance run -- but not before it inspired a dedicated group of supporters who spent the last three weeks writing letters, bombarding the producers with faxes, and even rallying at the Times Square TKTS booth to exhort people to buy tickets. In the end, it wasn't enough.

"The show has a great deal of heart," said Siegel, a social worker from Hackensack, NJ, who was seeing the show for the sixth time. "There are a lot of shows you can leave feeling entertained and amused. This show, from the first time I saw it, just stayed with me for days. Evan [Gadda, a wheelchair-bound fan of the show] said he related to the show because he's handicapped. But it also says a lot for people with emotional handicaps, and how they prevent people from pursuing the things they really want in life, their dreams. I think that's something we all have." Neither the cast nor the audience seemed to be suffering from any such handicap Jan. 3. The former battled to keep emotions in check to complete the show. The latter stopped one number after another with extended ovations.

"Emily [Skinner, one of the twins] couldn't hold a tune because she was so upset," Prince said. "In every scene she was crying, even if she was not supposed to be. Alice [Ripley, the other twin] held it together pretty well except in songs where she was supposed to cry. The guys were OK, but Norm [Lewis, who plays Jake] cracked during his big song ["You Should Be Loved"]."

Siegel said, "The cast held together much better than the audience did. There were big hands for all the numbers and the ovation went on and on at the end. I was thinking: This is not the closing of a bomb."

Prince said the stage was littered with bouquets and roses during curtain calls. Alice Ripley introduced composer Henry Krieger, lyricist/librettist Bill Russell and director/choreographer Robert Longbottom, who took bows. Though the cast had given nightly curtain speeches urging to audience to tell friends to come, there was no curtain speech at the final performance. In unison the cast said "Good night," and bowed.

Afterward, Manhattan's West 46th Street was mobbed with the show's supporters, some spilling off the sidewalk and into the street to greet the actors as they emerged from the stage door. "I never saw so many people waiting. They spanned the sidewalk and halfway down the block. [The actors] came out very slowly, obviously," Prince said.

Many asked the actors to pose for pictures, or to autograph posters and Playbills. Many of them talked about efforts to reopen the show in May, in time for the Tony Awards. "'Does anyone have a spare $600,000?'," Prince said Lewis was asking, half in jest.

Siegel had started the day early, stopping by the theatre before the Saturday matinee to drop off cards for the actors. While standing in the lobby, he overheard two people talking, who turned out to be Joseph and Scott Nederlander, two of the producers. When Siegel identified himself, he said, they walked him into the matinee performance as well.

"I told them that if they bring the show back in the spring, I hope they'll have a better advertising campaign," Siegel said.

Siegel, who works with HIV patients and autistic children in his job, said, "Even professionally, so much of this show is what I deal with at work. I've never been a fan of anything the way I've been for this show. I'd never written a fan letter. I'm trying to decide if this is some kind of midlife crisis."

Though the "Save Side Show" campaign was not acknowledged from the stage at the final performance, Siegel said people should know, "that the cast is very aware of them [campaigners]. They know everybody's out there, in the audience or on the internet, and it's my sense that there's a great appreciation for the support."

For an account of Evan Gadda's reception at the show Jan. 2, see Side Show Cast Loves Evan Gadda As He Is in U.S. Theatre News.

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