Theater Thursday – The Power of Musicals, Personally Speaking

Side Show Kennedy Center - Eisenhower Theatre  New revival of the hit musical!  Synopsis: Inspired by the lives of Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, Sideshow is about a press agent who brings the twins out of a sideshow and puts them into vaudeville.

A couple of weeks back, I wrote a review for the revival of Side Show. Sadly, the musical has now closed, and within that short span of my first viewing, I saw the production 4 times. Granted, that is a small number (one of my friends saw upwards of 15 times), but if I had the chance, that count would have definitely increased. But what was it about this show, that kept drawing me over and over again to return? The answer is a bit complicated.

For the majority of my life, I was considered by many medical professionals to be “disabled” in the way I spoke and thought. Many doctors told my mother that due to my collection of various issues, I would never be able to properly talk, socialize, or do just about anything. I’m like the Pokemon Master of learning disabilities – from dyslexia, short term memory loss, to dyspraxia–you name it, I got it. Granted, I was lucky in that my life always could have been worse, but that didn’t mean anything was ever easy for me. I had a lot of trouble making friends, learning anything was a wilder adventure than any Lara Croft went on, and taking tests or writing papers for any class, was simply a nightmare. I felt I lived inside of a cage, one that never allowed me to be free, and show the truly creative, intelligent individual I was within.

But as time passed, I came across something that allowed me to express myself and feel that I was really communicating for the first time. Musical theater was this key, one that was similar to movies, in that it taught me so much more than any class ever could. I loved getting lost in the magic of watching live performances, and the stories they told really showed me something I never thought was possible: There were characters just like me. Not in that they had learning disabilities, but that they were different. They had something that made them special, “unique” as Terry in Side Show says. Finally, I felt like I wasn’t alone.

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With The Phantom, Eponine in Les Miserables, and so many other countless characters, I finally felt like I had a place I could call home, one where many a “freak” was welcomed. As time went on, I of course found more protagonists to connect to, from other forms of media. But no matter what, the theater still held the most beautiful and magical of all those I would come to feel a connection with throughout my youth, and still to this day.

Like the characters/musicals I have mentioned previously, Side Show was not just a piece that I dashed to the corners of my mind for the rest of my days, but it instead struck a chord within me. It’s the kind of piercing, exciting feeling one gets on a good job interview, or a perfect first date. You feel anxious, comfortable, excited, terrified, all within a two and a half hour period. You don’t know whether what you are watching is your autobiography, or if the emotional similarities are just a figment of your imagination. But you know for sure, it’s something you don’t often experience, and you don’t want that feeling to ever go away.

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Though I might not be conjoined physically to someone like our leading ladies, I, like many others, felt a bond with Daisy and Violet Hilton. From their romantic struggles, to gaining the strength and confidence they eventually took hold of, the Hilton Twins are a duo that truly grabbed my soul like no other. Even the ensemble of “freaks” in the show have a special place within my heart, representing a very familiar aspect of my past that still resonates in my current adult life. The Fortune Teller for my optimism, The Half Man/Half Woman for my experimental days, The Geek when I was the tallest girl in my grade, and the list of connections goes on.

But nothing, and truly nothing, could have prepared me for the emotional roller coaster that occurred during one specific number. At the end of Act I, Daisy and Violet begin to question “the rose colored shades” they have worn when first meeting their romantic suitors and business partners, Terry and Buddy. Were those kisses real? Were their feelings shared? Was it all a joke? This leads the Twins to ask a question, one that plagued me my entire life, “Who Will Love Me As I Am?”

The song speaks of the simple fears that one has when it comes to their longevity in life, specifically within love and acceptance. From people like myself, to those facing similar challenges like Daisy and Violet, to members of the LGBT community, to even just the common person on the street, we’ve all asked this question at least once.

During the last performance I saw of the show, all the emotions I had carried in relation to this one specific piece of music seemed to envelop me. It was as if the chubby middle schooler who was constantly laughed at in the girl’s bathroom, for both the way she spoke and her appearance, finally had an anthem to call her own. She could walk out of that situation and see the light at the end of the tunnel, knowing there were others that knew her fears just as well. And even though I had seen it performed three times prior, when the curtain fell at the end of that ballad, I cried harder than I ever have at a Broadway show in my entire life.

As you can see, musical theater is special. No, not in the mocking way many people seem to reference, but in that a show can truly change your life, just like any piece of art can. Side Show was a piece of theater I never got to see during it’s original production in the 90’s, but I thank every star in the sky for allowing the revival to exist.

I now have yet another musical that makes me feel not so alone anymore in my day-to-day struggles. We all deserve to find that piece of art that speaks to the deepest parts of our souls, and makes us feel more fulfilled by the end of it. And that aspect is what brought me back to the St. James Theatre again, and again, to relive that discovery of finding that place, or musical, I belong to.

Do you have a musical or piece of art that makes you feel this way. Tell us about them in the comments! And join us next week for another edition of Theater Thursday. 

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2 thoughts on “Theater Thursday – The Power of Musicals, Personally Speaking

  1. This is a beautiful post! I’m really glad that musical theatre’s been able to give you this feeling–in a way, I think it’s what the genre strives to do, both in storytelling and structurally, with many shows designed to offer roles or safe havens to marginalised groups like the LGBTQ+ community or people who want to express themselves in a way ordinary life just doesn’t allow. I hope theatre continues to be a beacon of hope to lots of people

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