Producers: Save Side Show Campaign May Be Too Little, Too Late

News   Producers: Save Side Show Campaign May Be Too Little, Too Late
Not enough people wanted to "come look at the freaks." The Broadway musical Side Show has posted a closing notice for Jan. 3. The show will have run 31 previews and 91 regular performances.

And yet, the show does have a groundswell of support from audience members -- and a cast ready to beat the drum for the show. The musical, about Siamese-twin sisters in Vaudeville, released its cast album Dec. 9, gathering many votes from Playbill On-Line members as best of the year. Abby Strassler, general manager at the Azenberg producing office, told Playbill On-Line, "I understand the CD is selling really well and in the top five at HMV. People are really enjoying it."

Alas, tickets to the show itself still aren't hitting the mark. Sales are up at the Times Square (half-price) TKTS booth, helped by cast-members standing at the line and drumming up business. But Strassler told Playbill On-Line Dec. 29 that these efforts haven't made a mark on phone sales or advance, full-price seats. Also, the capital just isn't there for a TV commercial and other marketing strategies. "It's been a really tough Christmas season for a lot of shows," she said. "We needed a million dollars to make a commercial. The tourists in town are helping us, but phone sales haven't moved. Our million-dollar Christmas present hasn't come through yet. And there are people who just won't go to a show about Siamese twins."

Although Strassler says "a closing notice can always come down," and that cast members will continue to flock to the TKTS line, the Jan. 3 closing is essentially a fait accomplit. "It's too little, too late," said Strassler.

One glimmer of hope: There's strong interest in a London production, probably with some of the same performers. If that goes well, a U.S. national tour could also occur.

With music by Henry Krieger and libretto by Bill Russell, the show will have played just under three months at a loss of an estimated $7 million. This despite some good reviews (including a strong positive from the New York Times), curtain speeches and promotional appearances by stars Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner. General manager Strassler said of the ensemble, "It makes your heart swell and break at the same time -- they're the bees knees of actors... I've never seen this before. Usually people just accept that they're closing, but they've been really terrific and not giving up." Other Side Show cast-members turned to Playbill On-Line's own readers for action. Barry Finkel (who plays the "Reptile Man") posted a note, Dec. 21, on the Side Show Message Board. Here's the gist of it: "*EMERGENCY* Side Show could possibly close its doors forever on January 3rd, 1998! We need your help! The cast has banned [sic] together in an attempt to keep the show open...handing out flyers, encouraging people at TKTS to come see the show, doing all sorts of promotions..basically putting ourselves on the line for the sake of this wonderful piece of theatre...AND in an unprecedented effort, the crew, ushers, orchestra, front of house, bartenders, and coat check people have all joined the fight!... You can help us in our crusade by passing this word along to as many people as possible! Call everyone you know!! Time is running out, but there is still a good chance we can survive!"

After some readers expressed skepticism over the campaign and Finkel's credentials (the show didn't officially announce its closing to the press until the next day), Finkel wrote again: "Friday evening [Dec. 19] the producers were kind enough to let us know... That we would likely have to close on January 3rd. They only need to post a notice, one week prior to closing and even then they can decide to take it down... WE MUST have a LARGE increase in box office sales the next week and a half in order for the investors to put any more money in. If we can show the public's desire for the show, then we can hopefully get the rest of the money from them to get a tv commercial, which would hopefully solve the issue of national knowledge and interest in the show."

A number of websites have sprung up with the "Save Side Show theme, among them:
Cheerios Save Side Show Page
Save Side Show
Come Look At The Freaks

For their part, the producers began a "Miracle On 46th Street" campaign. Theatregoers who pick up a flyer for Side Show at the TKTS booth or the Richard Rodgers Theatre stage door can present it at the Box office, mention the "Miracle on 46th Street" ticket offer, and get two tickets to Side Show for the price of one (at all performances except Saturday nights).

Reader responses have been mixed, but there's certainly a groundswell of support building. Here's a typical reader's missive (posted Dec. 21): "As I'm sure many of you know, there is a forwarded email message circulating right now, encouraging people to buy tickets to Side Show. This is a brilliant idea -- (I don't know who started it- but WOW!) -- just imagine if each of us e-mailed the message to 50 people, and even if one or two of those 50 people bought tickets -- we can make a difference!"

On Saturday, Dec. 27, several Side Show fans converged on the TKTS line and exhorted standees to buy tickets. Said organizer Barry Siegel of the coalition, "These are all people who met on the Playbill On-Line message board and want to see [the show] succeed. We've come up with a flyer to hand out. Also, we're not there to put down any other shows, just to say how good this one is. I've seen the show three times on my own money -- and I'm unemployed. I really believe in the show."

Side Show has been struggling at the box office from the beginning (Oct. 16 opening); receipts apparently did not increase enough during the holidays to support a continued run. For the week ending Dec. 14, Side Show grossed $216,147, down from $272,444 the week before. Paid attendance was only 50 percent of capacity, down from 60 percent the week before.

Post-New Year's is, traditionally, a brutal time for Broadway and Off Broadway shows, because the tourists vacate New York and the regulars hibernate and have less spare time. Among the other shows leaving that weekend or thereabouts are Ivanov, Triumph Of Love, Defying Gravity, Mud, River, Stone, Never The Sinner, Filumena, Circus Oz, Three Days Of Rain, Mere Mortals and A Christmas Carol.


The new Broadway musical, Side Show, opened Oct. 16 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. The show tells the based-on-truth story of Daisy and Violet Hilton, identical twins joined at the hip, who performed in show business in the early years of the 20th century.

One twin loves the limelight; the other longs for the simpler life. How they work out their conflict and find love is the story of Side Show.

The Hiltons, who appeared in the Tod Browning movie, Freaks, are played by Ripley, who appeared as Bathsheba in King David and is best known for playing the ingenue in Broadway's Sunset Boulevard; and Skinner, who played Emily in the Madison Square Garden Christmas Carol last year.

Robert Longbottom directed and choreographed this look at carnival and vaudeville life, which has book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger, of Dreamgirls fame. Director Longbottom has staged several Radio City Music Hall seasonal spectaculars.

Jeff McCarthy plays a press agent who brings the twins out of the sideshow and puts them into vaudeville. Hugh Panaro will play his friend and partner who performs with the girls. McCarthy starred in Beauty And The Beast, Panaro in Show Boat.

The show features NY cabaret veteran Philip Officer, as bo -ek" and an ensemble member, and Ken Jennings (Tobias in Sweeney Todd).

Songs in the show include "Come Look At The Freaks," "Rare Songbirds On Display," "They Hardly Know I'm Around," "When I'm By Your Side," "Crazy, Deaf And Blind," "Marry Me, Terry" and "One Plus One Equals Three."

Produced by Emanuel Azenberg, Joseph Nederlander, Herschel Waxman, Janice McKenna and Scott Nederlander, Sideshowhas sets by Robin Wagner, costumes by Gregg Barnes , lighting by Brian MacDevitt, and sound by Tom Clark. David Chase serves as musical director, with Harold Wheeler doing the orchestrations.

Incredibly, Side Show is not the only Siamese twin musical on the boards. Singapore's Action Theatre presented its latest spoofy production, Chang & Eng -- The Musical, for the June 1997 Festival of Asian Arts. Even more incredibly, Side Show is not the first musical about Daisy & Violet Hilton. In Dec. 1989, Off-Broadway's WPA staged Twenty Fingers, Twenty Toes, by Michael Dansicker and Bob Nigro. Ellen Greene starred in the show, which was directed by Nigro.

Side Show tickets can be ordered by phone at (212) 307-4100 or purchased at The Richard Rodgers Theatre box office on West 46th Street in New York.

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