Sideshow at Annex Theatre Breaks Your Heart in a Good Way

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Sideshow is the kind of theatrical experience that reminds you why it’s worth it to live in a cool city. It’s willfully expressive, and silly, and full of joy. Billed as “children’s art made for grownups,” Jenna Bean Veatch’s music and dance production only has a couple of more nights at Annex Theatre. Go tonight, 5/9 or next Tuesday or Wednesday 5/15 & 5/16. Tickets are $10, 5 for students, and available here. Buy them. You’ll be glad you did.

The story follows a shy hunchback who wants to join the sideshow. Naomi Russell brings a precociousness matched with a good measure of anxiety to this role. She does little things like subdued jazz hands to the audience and she wins people over right away. Along the way she meets conjoined twins, a clown, a bearded lady, a tree man, and a jaundiced girl. Their interactions are often glancing, giving the show a collage-like quality, but the story between them does have meaning. A lot of that is left to your imagination. It’s painted with a blurry brush.

The play unfolds through dance and haunting Appalachian ballads. The only spoken words come from a judgmental voice at the back of the theater aimed occasionally at our protagonist. It’s all quite strange, with lots of pregnant silence punctuated with unashamed beauty.

The mood of the show was established early when the bearded lady stuck a spoon in her beard, left it there for a beat, then pulled it out and ate ice cream with it. They know what they’re doing, and they know you know they know.

Later, that same bearded lady and the hunchback did a dance where their bodies were intertwined– perhaps a reflection on the conjoined twins. It was one of the best parts of the show. A face in a sideshow booth sang an a cappella song that felt like sorrow and inspiration, and the women on stage proved magic possible.

Think of the archetype of weirdo fringe theater. Got it? That’s what you get with Sideshow, done better than your art fantasy where it’s all in French and the stage is made of clouds. You see actors, dancers, and singers being wonderfully silly and brave. Their hearts are in it, and watching them will move you. Sideshow is innocent and grown up at the same time, like a tattoo sleeve of childhood drawings. Don’t miss this one. It’s really beautiful.

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