The White Plains Examiner

Musical ‘Side Show’ Retells How Sisters Were Bonded for Life

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A scene from “Side Show” at the White Plains Performing Arts Center starring Rebecca Kuznick and Emily Kirsten Morris as conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton. WPPAC photo

Picture this: Twin girls are born conjoined at the hip. They don’t share major organs, but in 1908 separating them was extremely risky.

The twins were Violet and Daisy Hilton, famous in the 1930s as a singing and dancing duo and featured as a rare, freakish spectacle on the American vaudeville circuit.

The Hilton twins’ story has long been portrayed in plays, films, books and articles. Their story was adapted into the Broadway musical “Side Show,” which was nominated for four Tony Awards after its 1997 Broadway debut. It is now playing at the White Plains Performing Arts Center (WPPAC) with a full cast and live orchestra.

Conducted by WPPAC Executive Producer and Musical Director Stephen Ferri, many of the show’s 23 songs were composed by Henry Krieger with lyrics by Bill Russell, including “I Will Never Leave You” and “Who Will Love Me as I Am?”

With some dialogue throughout the musical, the songs shape the narrative of the two women who are bonded for life but hold different desires and dreams.

Director Frank Portanova said the nearly continuous music creates more “stage pictures” that tell the story.

“The music makes it much easier to sustain the energy and is always used in theater to heighten the emotion and intensity of a moment,” Portanova said. “Due to a person’s instinct for tune and rhythm, a work like ‘Side Show’ appeals more to the audience’s senses and allows the audience to experience a greater catharsis for these characters.”

Playing the Hilton sisters are Rebecca Kuznick as Violet and Emily Kirsten Morris as Daisy. The challenge for the two actors is physically moving together as one. Preparing for the roles, Kuznick and Morris met frequently before rehearsals began.

“When Rebecca and I first learned that it would be us playing the twins, we met up in her apartment and talked all things ‘Side Show,’ theater and life to try and get to know each other as fast as we could,” Morris said. “We knew it would be important that we felt comfortable around each other and had a bond before starting rehearsals.”

The two women became fast friends.

“That first day we also practiced walking together around her living room attached at the hip; it was clunky, but we began to figure it out,” Morris said. “The process of melding our bodies together has been so much fun.”

Kuznick admitted moving together was harder than they expected.

“But we got the hang of it fairly quickly,” she recalled. “We decided that regardless of where we are going on stage, we always start walking on our right foot, and we always turn around over our right shoulder. It was very silly at first but we seemed to have figured it out.”

The set design by Christopher and Justin Swader was tailored for the WPPAC stage. It’s a two-tiered vaudeville tent recreating the act that was on the road at the Texas Centennial during the height of the Great Depression. As the two women crave fame, fortune and love, they befriend circus freaks such as the bearded lady, Reptile Man, the three-legged man, Tattoo Lady and Snake Lady, among others. The twin’s two talent scouts Terry (Bronson Norris Murphy) and Buddy (Jack Brewer) ultimately launch the Hilton Sisters to Hollywood stardom.

“The storyline is very moving and it’s really a musical about accepting people for who they are and embracing people who are unique,” said WPPAC General Manager Kathleen Davisson. “This is a very relevant story for right now.”

“Side Show” continues this week with performances on Thursday, May 5 at 2 p.m., Friday, May 6 and Saturday, May 7 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 8 at 2 p.m. WPPAC is located at 11 City Place in White Plains. For tickets and more information, call 914-328-1600 or visit

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