ON STAGE: Genesius brings ‘Side Show’ into the spotlight

Dara Himes, left,  and Simmon Fecho play Violet and Daisy Hilton ñ The Hilton Siamese Twins at the Freak Show.
Dara Himes, left, and Simmon Fecho play Violet and Daisy Hilton ñ The Hilton Siamese Twins at the Freak Show. Photos by Jason Hugg & Spencer Moss Fecho
Shown here are Joey Moray,left,  as Terry Connor, - the manager of the twins,  Simmon Fecho as Daisy Hilton, Dara Himes as Violet Hilton, and Brandon Kegerize as Buddy Foster ñ the trainer and dance director of the twins.
Shown here are Joey Moray,left, as Terry Connor, - the manager of the twins, Simmon Fecho as Daisy Hilton, Dara Himes as Violet Hilton, and Brandon Kegerize as Buddy Foster ñ the trainer and dance director of the twins. Photos by Jason Hugg & Spencer Moss Fecho

Theater fans will get to experience an innovative new work when Genesius Theatre presents the heartwarming Henry Krieger and Bill Russell musical “Side Show” June 21-July 2. Behind its gorgeous music and carefully crafted lyrics is a story about two bright and beautiful young women who were joined together at the hip -- literally.

This inspirational tale is a true story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton who became stars during the Depression. The musical touches on the universal need for acceptance and the strength of the human spirit and is a moving portrait of two women whose extraordinary bondage brings them fame but denies them love. Told almost entirely in song, the show follows their progression from England to America, around the vaudeville circuit and to Hollywood on the eve of their appearance in the 1932 movie “Freaks.”

The recent Broadway Revival has a completely reworked plot and new songs like “Very Well Connected”, “All In The Mind” and “The Great Wedding Show.”

“Side Show” delves deeper into the backstory of the Hilton twins. With the implementation of the twins’ relationship with Harry Houdini and of a proposed separation surgery, the new book fleshes out characters and situations that endow the songs with more sophistication and truth.

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No matter how beautifully and skillfully it’s presented, there is sometimes an instinctive fear about people born with a difference. And unfortunately, conjoined twins have been called a lot of nasty names over the years: “nature’s mistakes,” “monsters,” and “freaks.” Yet Side Show is able to transcend this injustice to show the humanity and bravery of two talented women. The Hilton sister’s unusual story follows an almost Dickensian plot so laden with heartbreak and triumph it almost defies the imagination. Daisy and Violet Hilton were born in 1908 to an impoverished, unmarried, sixteen year-old barmaid in England. Joined at the base of their spine, the girls were sold by their mother to Mary Hilton who immediately began to showcase the girls. Trained to sing, dance, and play instruments, the twins became popular in Europe, moving to the United States in 1916.

By the time Daisy and Violet were 15, they were among the highest paid performers in the nightclub and vaudeville circuit, although the girls were virtually enslaved by their guardian. At the age of 23, the twins were freed by a San Antonio court order to embark on a career of their own as the “Hilton Sisters Revue.” A brief film career in the B-grade films “Freaks” (1932) and “Chained for Life” (1951) marked their heyday.

“The musical has a really special impact on the people who see it. There’s something about it that brings people together,” asserts director Christopher Sperat. “We are all misfits in some way. It’s something that speaks to everyone. As we search for acceptance we recognize the differences in each other, whether it’s a personality trait or physical difference. Rather than using our differences as justification for relational superiority, the play challenges us to seek self acceptance by embracing our individualities.” Krieger and Russell’s work underlines these thoughts with moving songs such as “Who Will Love Me As I Am,” “You Should Be Loved,” and the finale “I Will Never Leave You.”

The story begins at the carnival where Daisy and Violet Hilton are the main attraction of the sideshow. A talent scout named Terry Connor happens to be in the audience and immediately spots the musical gift of the Hiltons. He and his friend Buddy Foster contrive to meet the girls in an attempt to lure them to vaudeville. The twins are unsure about leaving the security of the sideshow, but Daisy’s dreams of fame lead them to take the plunge. Buddy coaches Daisy and Violet in song and dance routines while Terry works the media to make the girls celebrities. As their success grows on the Vaudeville circuit, love begins to bloom between Buddy and Violet as well as between Daisy and Terry. When Buddy proposes to Violet, Daisy hopes that Terry will propose a double wedding, but the pressures of society start to wear on the couples.

The Genesius production is being directed by long time Genesius actor, music director and director Christopher Sperat. He is also the music director and the show is being conducted by Andrew Cusano. Newcomer to Genesius, Jessica Bostock, is the choreographer. The set is designed by Brandon Kegerize, lights are designed by Spencer Moss Fecho and Julia Elberfeld, costumes are designed by Cynthia Kantner, hair and make up is designed by Kim Siegel of United Artist Salon and sound is designed by Albert Garcia. The set is constructed by John Bigos, Betty Gerstner, and Brandon Kegerize. The Genesius production features as the two sisters, Dara Himes as Violet Hilton and Simmon Fecho as Daisy Hilton. Also heading up the cast is Joey Moray as Terry Connor, Brandon Kegerize as Buddy Foster, DeShaun Williams as Jake and Jordan Baylor as Sir. There is a cast of 30 in various roles and ensemble parts.

Genesius is a 501-C-3 Non-Profit organization. The Genesius, 2017 Season, is sponsored by Sandy Solmon and Doug Messinger of Sweet Street and the Lead Show Sponsor is Tina’s Salon and Day Spa in West Reading. Genesius Theatre, 153 North 10th Street, Reading, PA 19601

“Side Show” opens Wednesday, June 21 and runs June 22, 23, 24, 25, 30, July 1 and 2. Show times are Wedmesday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.. Prices are Student $17.50, Senior $22.50, Adult $28.50, Premium Seats $30 and Deluxe Seats $33. Special Discount Night - Thursday, June 22 only– Student tickets are $15 and all other seats are $20. For Tickets please visit www.genesiusdifference.org; 610-373-9500 card fees apply. Also available at the door.

The play is PG-13-Rated. Genesius Theatre is handicapped accessible and there is free parking (limited spaces available) next to the theater. For more information, call the theater at 610-371-8151.