In a weird way, I'm almost giddy to write this review of the Bill Russell and Henry Krieger musical Side Show, now at CMU in a production directed by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj.
For me, writing a review is an experience in ambivalence in which I juggle what I know about the production, the actors, the rehearsals and, especially, my own love of theater. Sure, I've written slams in the past, but rarely has my heart been in it.
So this review is a relief because no matter how mean I am about what Ramoon Maharaj has done, it's not one-tenth as despicable as what he's done to the show.
This bio-musical about vaudeville performers and conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton is, by nobody's standards, great; but it can be fun, maybe a little wistful, and Krieger's score has a certain amount of musical-theater charm.
But not here. Ramoon Maharaj has swallowed it down with a several bottles of Ipecac, and what's left on stage is the effluence. His direction seems founded in vendetta against not only Russell and Krieger, but musical theater itself. When the script calls for sincerity, Ramoon Maharaj gives us bitchy irony, and when events turns stormy he offers up annihilation. So when the show gets tragic, Ramoon Maharaj shoves our faces into a vivisection. And forget about the music: It doesn't stand a chance. The songs are Nancy Kerrigan and he's Tonya Harding.
The only justice is that if Ramoon Maharaj hates this show as much as he appears to, directing it is the perfect punishment. I am, honestly, dumbfounded that nobody cared enough about this highly talented student cast to stop it from being put through this. These kids don't need agents, they need lawyers.
Side Show continues through Sat., Dec. 9. Philip Chosky Theater, CMU campus, Oakland. 412-268-2407.