Drama department to perform off-beat musical, “Side Show”

By Marina Diez

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Two years ago, “Damn Yankees” spoke of the power of true love. Last year, “Into the Woods” enchanted audiences with its story of fairy tales gone wrong. Now, this year’s school musical, “Side Show,” will redefine what it means to be a “freak.”The play is based on the true story of English Siamese twins, Violet (senior Emily Madden) and Daisy (junior Jane Bernhard) Hilton in 1908. Violet and Daisy, the first pair of conjoined twins in the United Kingdom to live more than a few weeks, worked in the circus as a part of a side show, before pursuing a career in singing.

“It’s a story of self-acceptance into society and one’s own self-acceptance,” director Christopher Gerken said.

Gerken selected the play because its story line is darker and more complex than previous musicals. Because the story is based on historical facts, actors will be able to deliver more passionate performances, Gerken said.

Students involved in the production said they were surprised by Gerken’s selection because of its extremely high level of difficulty. Whitman will be the first school in the county to produce the show.

“It’s like ‘Damn Yankees’; it wasn’t well-known but most of the school came to see it,” Madden said. “Hopefully the same will happen with ‘Side Show’.”

The play gets its name from the circus act, often referred to as a “freak show.” Freak shows, popular through the first half of the 20th century, consist primarily of human oddities such as conjoined twins, bearded ladies, little people and giants.

Because of the eccentric nature of these characters, the process of choosing the cast for “Side Show” was different.

Typically, auditions consist of a combination of singing, acting and dancing. This year, however, students were encouraged to add tricks to their performance.

“Some juggled and rode unicycles, but others went crazy with it and even got piercings,” Gerken said. “The goal was to find students who were brave and flexible enough to act outside of the box.”

This year’s cast consists of nearly 40 students, significantly more than last year’s cast for “Into the Woods.”

“Side Show” is comparable to opera, consisting of a variety of vocal performances and instrumental pieces.

“It’s a hard and challenging musical; it pushes the envelope,” vocal director Jeffrey Davidson said. “But students here at Whitman are good at that.”

This year, there will be music playing even when the actors are speaking, said Pit orchestra director Terry Alvey.

“Pit doesn’t take a break during the entire musical,” Alvey said. “We’re really amping it up this year.”

Almost all of the actors will be using microphones; the performance won’t have sound effects, sound technician junior Lydia Carroll said.

Gerken hopes that “Side Show” will inspire people to accept their unique differences.

“The musical truly shows that in the end we’re all freaks,” Gerken said.

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