(Hedy Weiss’s article appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, 9/16.)

Until recent decades, much of American popular entertainment was anything but politically correct. Consider the minstrel show, the burlesque house and the vaudeville stage. And then there was the sideshow — that “added attraction”of mainstream circuses and carnivals — the voyeuristic “freak show,” an exhibition of “human oddities,” including “born freaks” such as midgets, giants and the deformed, or “made freaks” like the heavily tattooed, and fat ladies and skeletal men.

Now, at a time when one of the more popular mottos on Broadway is “let your freak flag fly,” the outcasts of society have not only become the main attractions, but the heroes and heroines. A prime example of such a story is “Side Show,” the musical by Bill Russell (book and lyrics) and Henry Krieger (music) that is based on the lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who grew up in London and became famous stage performers in this country in the 1930s.


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