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Gorilla Theater rises to challenge of 'Side Show'

A good production of a good play can take you somewhere you've never been, show you things you've never seen. The Gorilla Theatre has something to show you, a play of rare thoughtfulness and intelligence.

By PETER SMITH

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 30, 2001


A good production of a good play can take you somewhere you've never been, show you things you've never seen. The Gorilla Theatre has something to show you, a play of rare thoughtfulness and intelligence.

A good production of a good play can take you somewhere you've never been, show you things you've never seen. The Gorilla Theatre has something to show you, a play of rare thoughtfulness and intelligence.

Side Show is the largest and most intricate production the Gorilla has put on. So much is happening onstage that it's a wonder it all fits.

The story of the singing Hilton sisters, Siamese twins who came from a carnival sideshow to the vaudeville stage, is one of the oddest for a serious Broadway musical, and the show did not last long during its New York run. That the Gorilla chose to produce Side Show speaks worlds about how much it trusts its patrons and itself.

Daisy and Violet Hilton are working in a freak show as the play begins, and they are discovered by Terry and Buddy, who work in "real" show business and see . . . what? A quick buck? A strange act that could fit into vaudeville? Two beautiful, intelligent woman who happened to be joined at the hip? Or all this and more?

The girls are protected by their friend Jake, a "cannibal king" in the freak show, a soft-spoken gentleman outside it. Daisy is the more confident of the two, leading her sister on to show biz heights unimaginable while Terry and Buddy, who run the twins' careers, fight, give in to and are perplexed by their feelings for the sisters.

Gaelen Gilliland and Maria Couch are Daisy and Violet, and they are equally wonderful. Both have gorgeous singing voices, and replete with the comfort and frustrations of having someone always there, they capture two of the richest characters in modern musicals.

As Terry, the always reliable Ned Snell starts off with the cynical standoffishness of a journalist but grows slowly to care about the sisters. He is a terrific singer as well. Jon Van Middlesworth plays Buddy, and his boyish charm, fine singing and strikingly flawless dancing add much to the show.

Erick Pinnick takes what could be a cliched role -- the wise black man who takes care of things -- and makes the part real by his determination and talent. As the show's villain, Allen Baker is solid, making the character more than a "bad guy." The cast is filled out by eight actors, all playing multiple roles and adding a great deal to the proceedings.

The space in the Gorilla, always intimate, has been changed to an in-the-round theater, giving the air of a circus.

Brett Smocks' direction of Bill Russell's book and Henry Krieger's music, and his choreography use every inch of space to good effect. Musical director Jason Tucker and a powerful five-piece band give the music, essentially sung through, power and grace.

All praise to the Gorilla for daring to put on something so challenging.

Theater review

Side Show runs through Nov. 18 at the Gorilla Theater, 4419 N Hubert Ave. Tampa. Tickets: $20 and $25. (813) 879-2914.

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