Saturday, September 1, 2018

Side Show (Atlantis Theatrical)

Come, look at the freaks! Welcome to Side Show, a collection of circus acts featuring the likes of the Bearded Lady, Dog Boy, Lizard Man, 3-Legged Man, and many more. But at the heart of the act are the haunting voices of twins Daisy (Gab Pangilinan) and Violet (Kayla Rivera) Hilton. Under the exploitative tutelage of Sir (Wency Cornejo), the conjoined twins have been under his custody since their aunt died, making him the sole legal guardian. When talent scout Terry (Markki Stroem) discovers the vocal prowess of the duo, he is convinced that he has found a runaway hit. After a bit of prodding, he convinces his vocal coach friend Buddy (David Ezra) to train them for a more sophisticated audience in Chicago. Will the tandem be able to withstand the pressures of showbiz given their condition?

You don’t really get to play around that much with a narrative about Siamese Twins. There aren’t so many stories in pop culture either. I remember that Thai film where one of the twins killed the other and then she pretended to be her dead sister all her life. Needless to say, it was a horror flick. Things don’t get that drastic in Side Show, but just the same it all boils down to one question: Will the conjoined twins literally go their separate ways? This is the focal point of the musical, and it does not really veer far away from that.

Perhaps what you are curious about is if the entire two hours or so would be focusing on the freak show, which is often uncomfortable to watch because of the exploitative theme of the story. Well, the freak show is more or less confined to the first act. The second act is reserved for the sisters’ ascent to stardom when they eventually leave their circus roots. Hey, stop pelting me with tomatoes, that wasn’t a spoiler. In fact I just gave you something to look forward to, haven’t I?

Well, it’s interesting because we get to see the girls evolve and reach something they never thought they would be able to achieve given the circumstances. What gets you hooked in the long run is the shift in conflict. Cornejo effectively portrays the main villain Sir, but he is eventually scrapped from the plot. As the show progresses, the conflict is still Man vs Society, but little by little it becomes Man vs Himself, as the twins try to figure out how to live their lives to the fullest without sacrificing one or the other.

As for the acting, everyone delivers a good show. The cast is heavy on prosthetics and costume yet most of them can still make you feel their plight. Pangilinan and Rivera are awesome singers, but perhaps the most important thing to note is that the two are well-versed in harmonizing their voices. Instead of one overshadowing the other, the blending yields a pleasant harmony that is both poignant and not devoid of meaning. So kudos to the casting director for assembling such an impressive cast.

Curiosity got the better of me and had me consulting Wikipedia after the curtain call, eventually discovering that Daisy and Violet Hilton really existed. Yes, they were part of several freak shows. Yes, they starred in a Hollywood film called Freaks. Yes, one of them married a gay guy for publicity, the marriage lasting for 10 days. Their story is much more depressing though, with the duo abandoned post-fifteen seconds of fame and dying of influenza by the age of 60. Side Show is definitely way less gloomy.

But it is still disheartening because it tackles exploitation. As Jake (Arman Ferrer) argues, the girls are working just as hard in their new fab life in Chicago, probably even more. Sir was definitely exploitative, but the new setup with Terry is just as so and maybe even more demeaning because there is manipulation of feelings involved this time around. What Side Show does, however, is give the girls a chance to gain the upper hand, or at least a semblance of that. And don’t we just love it when underdogs get the opportunity to triumph in life and show the world that they have what it takes to shine?

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