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Split Stage Productions tackles intricacies of 'Side Show'

| Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Tyler Brignone, Rori Aiello Mull, Victoria Buchtan and Zakk Mannella star in Split Stage Productions' 'Side Show.'
Tyler Brignone, Rori Aiello Mull, Victoria Buchtan and Zakk Mannella star in Split Stage Productions' 'Side Show.'

Real-life British conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton faced some unique challenges in their journey from being “freaks” in a side show to Vaudeville and Hollywood entertainers in the 1920s and '30s.

Split Stage Productions will tell their story in its musical production of “Side Show” by Bill Russell (book and lyrics) and Henry Krieger (music) at Apple Hill Playhouse. Rori Aiello Mull of Irwin and Victoria Buchtan of Wexford are portraying Daisy and Violet, respectively.

Director Jim Scriven of Monroeville says that aside from their physical differences, the Hilton sisters faced fears that everyone faces.

“The themes of this show are extremely universal,” he says. “Everyone at some point feels like they don't fit in; everyone desires to be loved.”

As for the physical limitations of the conjoined women they are playing, both actors are dealing with challenges of their own.

“They are very distinctly two separate people with different personalities and ideas, but must move as one,” says Mull. “Not being able to easily shift my weight or take off in a direction without disconnecting was difficult at first, but after the first week we naturally started moving a bit more smoothly. I also didn't expect my muscles to be so sore!”

There are additional challenges that Buchtan is encountering besides the obvious physical adjustments.

“These girls learned from the very beginning to blend together and act as one person for fame. As the show goes on, you really start to see the twins become two completely separate beings, not physically, but mentally. Finding that path as Violet is a challenge,” she says.

Mull's recent credits include directing “Always, Patsy Cline” for Apple Hill Playhouse and choreographing “The Wedding Singer” for Greensburg Civic Theatre.

Buchtan portrayed Velma Kelly in Split Stage Productions' “Chicago,” Hope Cladwell in Robert Morris Colonial Theatre's production of “Urinetown” and Ilse in Split Stage Productions' “Spring Awakening.”

Originally from Berea, Ohio, Scriven's recent directing credits include “The Music Man” and “Pippin” at Pine-Richland High School. He served as assistant director for the Gene Kelly Awards with Pittsburgh CLO.

For the director, the challenge of staging conjoined twins “was something I couldn't pass up. ‘Side Show' has always been a favorite of mine. The music is fabulous. This show is going to be a full ‘freak show' experience from the time you step out of your cars.”

Adding to the visual spectacle of the production is the cast of sideshow attractions that include a Human Pin Cushion, Dog Boy, Lizard Man and Bearded Lady.

“Side Show” played on Broadway from Oct. 16, 1997, to Jan. 3, 1998. It also was revived on Broadway in 2014 and had a limited run in London in 2016.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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