'Side Show' Packs Up Its Tent Early on Broadway

Side Show Production Still - H 2014
Joan Marcus

Side Show Production Still - H 2014

Despite strong reviews for Bill Condon's $8 million retooled version and a considerable cult following, the musical has failed to build box-office momentum

Seventeen years to the day since its original production closed after a commercially disastrous run of just three and a half months, the lavish Broadway reboot of Side Show will make an even swifter exit.

Producers have confirmed a Jan. 4 closing date for the bio-musical about the search for love and acceptance of real-life conjoined twin sisters Violet and Daisy Hilton, darlings of the Depression-era vaudeville circuit who made a brief foray into Hollywood. The stars playing those symbiotic roles, Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, appeared on NBC’s Today on Friday morning, singing their Act II showstopper, "I Will Never Leave You."

First staged on Broadway in 1997, the show has a book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger. While that premiere run was short-lived, the cast recording and subsequent productions helped earn the musical something of a cult following over the years. But those fans clearly were not enough to sustain the current revival.

Read more 'Side Show': Theater Review

First-time Broadway director Bill Condon, who worked with Krieger on the film version of Dreamgirls, collaborated with the Side Show creative team to reconceive the material, adding new songs, expanding the backstory and enhancing emotional access to the central characters in a more vivid depiction of their world.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter prior to the start of previews, Condon said the "ick factor" had kept theatergoers away in 1997, but he believed audiences today were more open to unconventional subject matter of this nature. Response to the production's pre-Broadway engagements at La Jolla Playhouse and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., were strong.

Watch more 'Side Show' on Broadway: Sneak Peek (Video)

However, ticket sales have been slow since the start of previews at the St. James Theatre on Oct. 28. Despite rave reviews, including a love letter in The New York Times, box office remained disappointing even after the show's official Nov. 17 opening.

Capitalized at a reported $8 million, the production has not once hit the $500,000 mark in weekly grosses during its short run, and its cumulative total through Dec. 7 is just $2.6 million.

Read more Bill Condon Q&A: How to Cast Conjoined Twins on Broadway

While the premature closing will make Side Show one of the major commercial casualties of the 2014-15 season, discussions are underway to take the production to London. Lead producers on the Broadway revival are Darren Bagert, Martin Massman, Jayne Baron Sherman, Joan Raffe and Jhett Tolentino.

Producers of the Kander and Ebb musical The Scottsboro Boys, which met with a similarly early Broadway demise in 2010, have had some consolation with London success; that show transferred from an acclaimed run at the Young Vic to the West End, and recently won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for best musical.

While the Broadway fall season has generated a handful of plays doing stellar business, including The River with Hugh Jackman, The Elephant Man with Bradley Cooper and It’s Only a Play with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, new musical productions have struggled.

The well-reviewed On the Town revival, which opened Oct. 16, has been playing to audiences in the 60 to 70 percent capacity range for the past five weeks, including the lucrative Thanksgiving break.

Sting’s musical-theater composing debut, The Last Ship, which opened Oct. 26 to mixed critical response, also has failed to catch on. However, grosses for that show are expected to improve this week now that the former Police frontman has joined the cast in a bid to save the commercially troubled production. Sting has already extended his originally announced engagement and will now appear through Jan. 24.