KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews the La Jolla Playhouse production, "Sideshow."
Related Story: Behind The Scenes: 'Sideshow'
HOST INTRO: The musical “Sideshow” just opened at La Jolla Playhouse. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says it takes its inspiration from the 1932 film Freaks and the real life conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton.
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TAG: “Sideshow” runs through December 15 at the La Jolla Playhouse.
A lizard man crawls across the floor, a six foot seven geek bites the head off a chicken, and a dog boy barks at the audience.
Welcome to the world of the musical “Sideshow.”
CHRISTOPHER ASHLEY: I really proud of how this musical begins.
That’s Christopher Ashley, artistic director at the La Jolla Playhouse.
CHRISTOPHER ASHLEY: The first thing that happens is you meet the Freaks. Their costumes and special make up have been devoted to them so there’s a bearded lady and a tattooed lady and a fortune teller…
CLIP Come see God’s mistakes
CHRISTOPHER ASHLEY: It’s sort of all of the things you’d expect to meet in a sideshow but done with such detail and when you see them all arrayed in front of you, you feel like wow, I am really in that other world where anything is possible.
CLIP: Come look at the freaks.
Actress Emily Padgett says the term freak comes up often in the play.
EMILY PADGETT: I think everyone has something about them that makes them feel different or insecure or whatever that may be and I think the show sort of celebrates those things that set us apart .
Padgett plays Daisy Hilton and what sets her apart is her inability to separate from her conjoined twin Violet, played by Erin Davie.
CLIP I’m Daisy, I’m Violet…
The Hilton Sisters were real women joined at the hip who could sing, dance, and act.
CLIP I’m intrigued by your singing, you’re not without talent. You have potential… But we’re freaks… not the word I’d use.
The Hiltons went from sideshow performers to vaudeville stars in the 30s. The sisters were born conjoined but the actresses playing them had to learn how to move as one says Padgett.
EMILY PADGETT: We have to go up stairs together, we have to do costume changes together. So I just think the physicality of it, not really any more but starting out definitely took some getting used to.
Erin Davie agrees.
ERIN DAVIE: We didn’t know each other before this especially early on but you have to get to know each other very quickly because you are stuck together, literally.
Perfecting the physical aspects of the characters took practice but now it seems second nature. So even when not conjoined by their costumes, the actresses sit down for their interview with Padgett on the left and Davie on the right, the order the twins are in. The actresses also complete each other’s sentences as if they’d known each other intimately for years. That gets to what was so fascinating about the Hiltons says Davie.
ERIN DAVIE: They were fascinating to watch and how they moved together, it was kind of endlessly fascinating, that’s one of the reasons they were famous because people were so curious and loved to watch them.
To research their roles, the actresses watched footage of the Hiltons from the 1932 film Freaks and 1959 film Chained for Life. What struck Padgett was how normal the sisters seemed.
EMILY PADGETT: Even watching the movie Freaks, when one sister was talking to a boy, like the other sister was reading a book. Everything was a compromise and I think that’s how they had to live their life. And that’s just how it was and just how normal they seemed and happy.
Davie says the play is really a love story between the sisters, which is why the idea of surgery to separate them seems wrong.
ERIN DAVIE:. If you were born with somebody and you were so close would you want to separate? It’s interesting.
CHRISTOPHER ASHLEY: I think one of the amazing things about the storytelling here is you really want them to stay conjoined, there’s an emotional feeling about they belong together and they would be more normal and more like the rest of us if they split apart and had the surgery by the end of the play you feel like there’s something right about them being together and their connected in a way that’s more profound than they could ever have with one of the guys romantically.
The Hilton sisters chose to leave the world as they entered it, together.
Beth Accomando, KPBS News.