ALAMEDA -- Can you imagine a musical stage play that is simultaneously a comedy, a tragedy and, sprinkled in, a re-enactment of American stage entertainment from the earlier parts of last century?

All this comes together in Altarena Playhouse's current offering, "Side Show."

The true story of American conjoined twins is the plot line of this musical. Daisy and Violet Hilton were conjoined at their hips since birth, and American surgical medicine could not separate them. As young women, the two were favorites of everyone they encountered. Their parents were no longer a part of their lives. To support themselves, Daisy and Violet worked in a circuslike show run by a frenetic man called The Boss (played by Elmer Strasser). The twins were labeled "freaks."

A talent agent and his associate (Coley Grundman and Johnnie Rivard) saw them and were impressed. They convinced Daisy and Violet that with proper training they could become popular entertainers. They accept, and we whiz through Broadway shows and New York parties with music prepared for them. But what can be done when these twins eventually fall in love?

Casting the roles of Daisy and Violet must have been difficult. Conjoined twins look identical. Director John Maio instead cast actresses with substantial dramatic experience and well-trained voices: Caroline Schneider and Mia Fryvecind Gimenez.

These two do not look at all alike. Maio added identical wigs, makeup and sewn-together costumes. Shorter Mia wears high-heeled shoes, and taller Carolyn wears a lower pair. Their voices, however, blend admirably.


Advertisement

The entire chorus ensemble is excellent. Their many dances were choreographed by Bobby Barnaby Bryce (who is, himself, a prizewinning male burlesque dancer).

John Maio, a director who consistently adds interesting bits to his productions, has not only chosen fine leading players but a cast of multitalented and diverse people. Solo voices under the care of music director Greg Zema blend beautifully. Coley Grundman's, Johnnie Rivard's and George P. Scott's voices grow rounder as the show progresses, becoming increasingly beautiful.

"Side Show" is a long production, constantly changing in intensity. For a musical that is as well done and totally different from anything you've ever seen before, you will want to see this show.

if you go
What: "Side Show"
Where: Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 23 and Thursday, Feb. 20; 2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $21 to $24
Information: 510-523-1553 or www.altarena.org