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Theater: Side Show
by Scott C. Morgan

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Playwright: Bill Russell and Henry Krieger

At: Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont

Phone: 773-327-5252; $25

Runs through: July 9

When the film careers of superstar twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen go kaput, they should be able to find instant work on Broadway in a show tailor-made to their tabloid fame: Side Show.

Yes, that 1997 cult Broadway musical is based loosely on another set of famous twins who were shoved into show biz at a very early age. True, the Olsens aren't physically conjoined at the hip like vaudeville and film Siamese twin performers Daisy and Violet Hilton, but they'll forever be linked together in the minds of adoring fans.

But enough wishful casting predictions. If you want a dose of gawking musical fascination right now, take heed of Side Show's opening number to 'Come Look at the Freaks' in Bohemian Theatre Ensemble's ambitious and stylish production.

The hard-working non-Equity cast, assembled under Stephen M. Genovese's fluid direction, is practically perfect. The line of winking camp and lovelorn trauma in Bill Russell's libretto is expertly traversed by the show's five principals, who are caught up in a messy polygon.

Bedecked with similar wigs and expertly attuned to each other's movement and emotional states, Vanessa Panerosa as the vivaciously ambitious Daisy and Andrea Prestinario as the shyer Violet Hilton continually amaze. They vocally make the most of composer Henry Krieger's ( Dreamgirls ) gloriously anachronistic power ballads like 'I Will Never Leave You' and constantly delight as they maneuver through Brenda Didier and Andrew Waters' fun choreography for the period vaudeville number 'We Share Everything.'

As the three men who vie for the twin's affections, Brandon Dahlquist and Eric Lindahl are respectively wonderful as scheming manager Terry Conner and talent scout Buddy Foster, who build the twins into money-making stars during the difficult Depression. Too bad the sisters can't fully bring the guys to commit to them, like their former freak-show member Jake ( a powerful Aaron Holland ) , who is stuck on Violet but finds another societal barrier preventing them from being in a 'normal' relationship.

Bohemian Theatre's Side Show also boasts a winning supporting cast as well as great circus production values by set designer John Zuiker, costume designer Theresa Ham and lighting designer Mark Myers, plus a strong off-stage band led by music director A. Scott Williams. Side Show may have flopped on Broadway ( despite a load of critical acclaim and star-making turns by Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley ) , but Bohemian Theatre's production strongly confirms that this off-kilter show is definitely modern musical caviar.

Instead of being best remembered by the exploitative 1932 Hollywood film Freaks, the Hilton twins' tragic love life and brushes with fame are honored for posterity by Side Show. The Olsen twins might want to take heed of Side Show not only as a perfect star vehicle, but as a parable to their own potential pitfalls of tabloid celebrity and relentless publicity.

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