Side effectsKATIE Shriver and Yvonne Filius will dance cheek to cheek, but not face to face in Manoa Valley Theatre's "Side Show."
It takes certain stick-to-itiveness
to inhabit the role of Siamese twins
in MVT's 'Side Show'
By Cynthia Oi
That's because the musical, nominated for four Tony awards in 1998, is based on the true story of Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who were joined at the base of their spines.
The sisters became national celebrities as vaudeville performers, dancing, singing and playing musical instruments to gain their fame.
Shriver will portray Violet, the shy sister, and Filius will be Daisy, the more assertive of the two. Oddly enough, the actors' roles match their personalities.
"Type casting, type casting!" boomed Filius during a dual interview one recent evening before rehearsals. Shriver chuckled softly.
Playing sisters isn't a reach for either woman because they've shared the stage in previous productions and Filius is Shriver's voice instructor. But playing Siamese twins will be difficult because although the real Hiltons were joined, the actors will not be.
What: "Side Show"
When 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays tomorrow through March 25
Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Rd.
Cost: $28; $10 for those under 25
In fact, the play's Broadway script demands the actors be "never literally connected by corset, Velcro or any other costume piece," said director-choreographer John Rampage.
Filius and Shriver think that's the way it should be.
"Can you imagine if we Velcro-ed our clothes together, or if we had that sort of thing? Everybody's eyes would be right there, focused on that," Filius said, as Shriver nodded in agreement. "It's up to us to create the illusion that we are joined."
If the actors do that, the achievement on stage is even more impressive, said Rampage, who is also artistic director at Diamond Head Theatre.
This idea is emphasized in the play's opening when the actors come out on stage separately, then move toward each other and stand together hip to hip for the rest of the production, he said.
The roles demand a lot from the actors.
In early rehearsals, Shriver and Filius placed a piece of paper between them at butt level and learned to move with each other without letting the paper fall.
But they also have dance numbers, so sticking together has become a matter of trust and keeping aware of what the other is doing.
"Sharing the stage as two people but really being one requires giving a lot of yourself away," Filius said. "When you play a lead character, usually it's all up to you. In this show, if she messes up, she's going to rely on me to cover and if I mess up, I'm going to rely on her to cover. That requires trust."
"There's no selfishness allowed or the show won't work," Shriver said. "You can't be a prima donna -- that's exactly it."
Rampage's challenges are in the choreography and staging.
"In a regular show, usually you would turn and face the person you are talking to. The way this dialogue is written, you can't always do it. Sometimes you'll have both girls speaking to one character," he said.
"The choreography is difficult because you are restricted in the directions they can move. I have to be constantly aware that they can't be separated," he said. "When you have two people who have to be mirror images of each other, it complicates matters tremendously."
Shriver, Filius and Rampage all emphasize that "Side Show" isn't about freaks.
"One of the songs is 'Who Will Love Me as I Am.' That tells you a lot," Filius said.
"Everyone can identify with that because whether you're attached to someone or not you want to be loved for who you think you are," Shriver said.
Rampage remembers that the Broadway production developed a cult attraction to many young people, "scraping up money for standing-room-only tickets" to see the show over and over.
"I asked this girl why and she said because as a teen-ager, she felt out of touch with her peer group and this show addressed that -- what do you do when you're different," he said. "There's a real sense of overcoming your obstacles, especially in the world of show business, which is what the girls did."
Shriver said she wonders about the real Hilton sisters. They were vaudeville stars, making as much as $2,500 a week, an enormous sum in the 1920s and '30s. Violet married, but the marriage was annulled. Daisy also was married briefly.
The complications of portraying the women are small compared to the complications of the Hiltons' lives.
"They were part of each other in a way that you can't imagine being a part of anybody else," Shriver said. "When they were alone, they were together."
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