Theater Review: Side Show at the Francis Wilson Playhouse

is well-written, giving the twins full range of character development that progresses from being beaten down and insecure at the beginning of the show to being fully realized the end.  The difficulties they have to endure, along with the triumphs they achieve make this an emotionally charged show.

The music by Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls) is challenging but rewarding.  It’s written for singers who have a huge vocal range -- often times in minor keys.  The cast is well up to the challenge. The show is more like an opera than a musical; though the score is difficult, the songs are passionate and emotional. Bill Russel's lyrics are a little trite at times (like rhyming strife, knife and wife; but come to think of it, it's probably period appropriate.)  At other times the lyrics are very moving, like in some of Daisy and Violet's introspective ballads.

The actors do a commendable job with this show. Lauren Clark brings a touching vulnerability to the role of Violet and Chrissy Dobrowski brings a strength that at times turns to bitterness in the part of Daisy. These are not easy parts to play. Throughout the show they have to remain stuck together and this is not done by costuming, because the two do occasionally come apart during dream sequences. They have to physically keep themselves as one while dancing and singing and acting out some very emotional scenes. Kudos to the twins. Two of their duets, "Who Will Love Me As I Am" and "I Will Never Leave You" are powerful and haunting.

[image-1]Cranstan Cumberbatch in the part of Jake has easily the strongest voice in the show, hitting these challenging songs out of the ballpark. He is especially strong in “The Devil You Know” and “You Should Be Loved.” Joey Sarlo aptly acts the part of the opportunistic Buddy as sincere and forthright, but a touch cowardly. He excels in the number, “One Plus One Equals Three.” Tim Foster plays the slick Terry with fitting sliminess.

The ensemble cast makes a great transition from ordinary people in the opening scene to freaks in the first act, to vaudeville singers and dancers, and then to high society partiers later in the show. The male chorus is witty and entertaining as dancing Egyptian slaves in the Busby Berkeley-esque “We Share Everything.”

Director Jason Fortner should be lauded first for his courage in tackling this complex show and next for his ability to bring out the emotional depth in the characters. He keeps the show moving as one scene flows easily into the next.

The set, designed by Jim Demetrius, is mostly [image-2]composed of bleachers that the cast expertly rotates into various positions. It works for the conveying a seedy carnival feel and is well set off  by Andy Rufo’s ominous lighting design. Costumers, Mitzi Mess and Cherie Albury have the cast convincingly dressed in 1930s wardrobe. Visual highlights of the show are the two big production numbers, one with an Egyptian theme and one with the girls suspended on a swing in mid-air as girls dressed like swans fan them.

Though the Violet and Daisy had to endure quite a bit throughout their lives, I came out of the show with a feeling of optimism at the strength of the human spirit. The revelation of Side Show is that these two women who seem so abnormal on the outside really want what we all want: to be loved and appreciated. The show provides an evening of thought-provoking entertainment, and it is great to experience the work of this talented and enthusiastic community theater cast and crew.

Side Show, through January 24, 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 2 p.m. matinees Sat.-Sun., Francis Wilson Playhouse, 302 Seminole St., Clearwater, $25, $12 students, 727-446-1360,

To read more of Sally Bosco’s writing and theater reviews see

We’re all a little freaky inside, aren’t we?  Go to see the Francis Wilson Playhouse production of Side Show to experience the world through the eyes of Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. These courageous young women make a change from being a circus sideshow act to becoming famous vaudeville performers in the 1930s.  The show begins with the twins in a second rate sideshow with an abusive ringmaster who likes to show the girls off only partially clothed.

But even though the conditions are deplorable, the “freaks” in the sideshow are like family and feel very protective of the girls, especially Jake who is sweet on Violet.  When fast-talking Buddy Foster and Terry Connor want to take the girls on the vaudeville circuit to make them famous, their sideshow family objects. This leads to the song, “The Devil You Know,” expertly sung by Jake. Later when the two men start to feel personally drawn to the twins, they sing, “More Than We Bargained For.”  This is a foreshadowing of things to come (mainly, their emotional involvement with the girls).

The book by Bill Russell is based in fact and

Scroll to read more Local Arts articles
Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected]