NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Side Show," based on the true story of conjoined twins and 1930s Vaudeville stars Daisy and Violet Hilton, is back on Broadway in a revival hailed by critics as thrilling and beautiful.
From the dazzling opening number "Come Look at the Freaks," the audience is drawn into the bizarre world of a side show with its bearded lady, three-legged man, hermaphrodite, lizard man and the show's stars, Daisy and Violet.
But instead of gawping at the misfits, the revival by Hollywood film director Bill Condon ("The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn") that opened on Monday night at the St. James Theater draws the audience into their lives, longings and dreams.
"United by life, divided by dreams," said the New York Times, which described the show as a "thrilling Broadway revival" and "a beautiful and wrenching musical."
"You'll get attached to this freak-show revival," chimed in The New York Post newspaper, while the trade magazine Variety added, "The new, improved "Side Show" smells like a hit."
The original musical earned mixed reviews during its short run in 1997. Condon's version premiered last year at the LaJolla Playhouse in California and had a run at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Several songs have been added in the revival, which includes more than 20 musical numbers, while others were cut. Substantial rewrites delved more into the characters' background.
Emily Padgett, who appeared in "Rock of Ages" and "Grease" and Erin Davie ("A Little Night Music" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood") play the British-born twins joined at the hip. Throughout rehearsals the actresses were sewn into a corset together.
Padgett's Daisy is the bolder twin, who longs for fame and fortune, while Davie's Violet is quieter and wants a normal life. They are discovered at the side show by a hustler talent scout and his assistant and groomed into a popular vaudeville act.
With songs like "Stuck With You," "Who Will Love Me As I Am" and "All in the Mind," they draw the audience into their predicament.
"Their bright, resonant sopranos blend impeccably; Davie's Violet tackles the top notes with a delicacy and ardor that emphasize fragility and fear, while Padgett gives Daisy pluck and wit," said the newspaper USA Today.
The New York Daily News said the show's jewels are the songs and added that the power duets by the twins "are worth the price of admission."
(Editing by Marguerita Choy)