Broadway "Side Show" offers poignant, powerful revival

14nov16_side_show.pngBack in 1997, the musical Side Show, based on the life of conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, ran for just 91 performances on Broadway, but received four Tony nominations and created a devoted following. Now Side Show is back, in a dazzlingly theatrical reboot at the St. James Theatre, directed by Academy Award winner Bill Condon and featuring a rewritten book and new songs by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger.

The Hilton twins occupied a weird cultural niche in the 1930s — abandoned as infants in the UK, they were exploited as a curiosity, brought to the US by their manager, toured in vaudeville as a musical act, and eventually appeared in Tod Browning's infamous film Freaks. The revived Side Show offers a deft, compelling biography of Violet and Daisy's challenges that illuminates fundamental human issues of acceptance, othering, and the fraught duality of attachment and escape.

Every moment of show — the majority of which is sung — is packed with bravura performances from an excellent ensemble cast, and intense, vivid theatrics. Krieger (Dreamgirls) displays a gift for haunting motifs, and paired with Russell's clever, twisty lyrics, provides a richly complex score that bears repeated listening. A new cast album is in the works for early in 2015.

The opening number, "Come Look at the Freaks," is a marvel of prosthetics and makeup as we meet the members of the sisters' traveling show: Dog Boy, Three-Legged Man, Human Pin Cushion, Bearded Lady, two Cossack little people, a Lizard Man, the Cannibal King, and "Sir," the sisters' owner and manager. A recent Wall Street Journal photo essay captures the amazing special effects, which were stunningly effective even from the front row.

Erin Davie as Violet and Emily Padgett as Daisy offer utterly riveting performances. It is difficult to imagine anyone pulling off such a span of complex, synchronized movements, but they make it look effortless. Davie is tragically compelling as the introverted Violet, complemented by Padgett's brash Daisy. Together — and they are almost always joined at the hip, aside from a few startlingly effective frame breaks — the pair offer a heartbreaking character study. The 11-o'clock number, "I Will Never Leave You," is a beautiful ballad that was featured on the 1998 Tony broadcast. Their end of Act I duet, "Who Will Love Me As I Am," is an aching lament that will reduce you to tears, even in recollection. You have been warned.

Ryan Silverman as Terry Connor and Matthew Hydzik as Buddy Foster are wonderful as the would-be impresario and song-and-dance man who coax the sisters to move to vaudeville. Their complex relationships — Terry with Daisy and Buddy with Violet — provide much of the energy and tension. Silverman's darkly introspective internal fantasy "Private Conversation," and Buddy's over-the-top vaudeville number "One Plus One Equals Three" could not be more different, yet both perfectly capture the inner lives of this duo caught in the orbit of the sisters.

Another fine thematic doubling is offered by David St. Louis as Jake, the freak show African "Cannibal King" who makes himself the sisters' protector and Robert Joy as the heartless "Sir" who literally owns them. Jake's soulful warning about leaving the show, "The Devil You Know," comes as the sisters struggle to free themselves from Sir's protectorship. Joy's creepy, malevolent Sir contrasts beautifully with St. Louis's nuanced performance as stalwart ally and friend. "I wasn't always the king," he notes in a moment of mordant humor. "I had to eat my way to the top." His confrontation with Sir in the court battle to free the sisters is a rich, dramatic moment.

The courtroom, like the rest of the show, is executed within David Rockwell's spare, elegant set, comprising mobile structural pieces augmented with bold, clever banners. The lighting, by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer combines unobtrusive effectiveness with bravura effects (the "Private Conversation" sequence is a real standout.)

Without having seen the original production, it's difficult to quantify how much Bill Condon's direction and additional book material shaped the show, but the result is nothing short of magical. Right from the opening number, the audience is immersed in a richly imagined, thoroughly compelling vision, executed to the highest technical standards. Whether it's the terrifying shadow doctors in a childhood flashback, the appearance (and disappearance) of Harry Houdini, the romping vaudevillian numbers, or the eerie final sequence with Tod Browning, Condon surprises, delights, and chills the audience. And the book and music are just a continual delight. Krieger and Russell have tweaked the original material and composed several new numbers that are wonderful additions.

Side Show is not really about "freaks," unless it's about the way in which all of us experience the isolation of being alive in a world of difference. It is ultimately, and beautifully, about the things that connect us to each other as people — literally embodied as blood vessels and tissue for the sisters — and the continual challenge of growth and autonomy.

This is a dazzling, high-impact revival of a wonderfully, deeply human show, and an absolutely engrossing theatrical experience. You will come away changed. Highly recommended.

Opens Monday, Nov 17 at the St. James Theatre. More informtion and tickets at SideShowBroadway.com.

Editorial note: Review based on the preview performance on Saturday, Nov. 15. I paid for my tickets and did not receive anything of value in exchange for this review, although I did get to meet Bill Russell afterward and gushed like a fanboy.

Portsmouth school leadership to meet residents

The Portsmouth school district's new leadership team — superintendent Anna Riley and assistant superintendent Thomas Kenworthy — will be holding two "meet and greet" sessions to provide residents an opportunity to meet and talk informally, according to an e-mail sent to parents by the district.

Riley and Kenworthy will be at the Portsmouth Free Public Library, 2658 East Main Road, on Wednesday, November 12, from 10:00 – 11:00am and on Wednesday, November 19, from 4:00 – 5:30pm.

For more information, please call the district office at 401-683-1039.

Editorial note: Written from an e-mail.

DEM catches bad dirt at Portsmouth landfill cap

On Monday, RI DEM released information on two recent issues with the ongoing capping project at the former Portsmouth landfill. An e-mail from RI DEM principal environmental scientist Mark Dennen included attached letters to Arthur Palmer Enterprise and their site manager which detailed two episodes where soil with greater than 7 parts per million of arsenic were identified, the remedial actions required, and in one case, the threat of fines. Here's what Dennen said in his cover e-mail:

As you may know, the Department routinely takes split samples of soils received at the former Portsmouth Town Dump to verify sample analyses done by generators.

The enclosed Notice of Intent to Enforce was issued today regarding soils from Newport that were sampled as part of a routine inspection. As explained in the Notice of Intent, our sampling found that arsenic levels were above both levels reported and criteria set forth in the BUD (40 mg/kg). As these levels are not acceptable, soils will have to be delineated and removed. The Department also reserved the right to take additional enforcement action.

Also enclosed is a letter regarding soils accepted from East Providence sampled relative to a complaint. Although arsenic levels are within allowable levels for the BUD, they were significantly higher than reported. These soils will have to be appropriately managed.

You can read the documents here:
590 Bellevue Avenue, Newport
Omega Pond Fish Ladder

Portsmouth Republican statistical misdirection

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The Portsmouth Republicans have had a blaring yellow insert in our weekly Portsmouth Times for the past month, and while I've previously covered their gibberish, it didn't seem worthwhile to go after their cherry-picked statistics. But this week's installment featured such a shameless whopper that as a graduate of Edward Tufte's workshop, I feel obligated to point it out.

Here's their statement:

DID YOU KNOW...that voter turnout in Portsmouth increased from 54.4% in 2010 to 65.5% in 2012? Keep up the good work! See you at the polls.

Let's start with the less obvious problem. The Republicans appear to be doing their percentages against the entire Portsmouth population (17,343) rather than the eligible voter universe (12,327). That's the only way I can get their numbers to work, since in the the 2012 election, Portsmouth voters cast at least 9,182 votes for President, which works out to 74% turnout, rather than the 54% they computed, apparently using the census number.

But that's merely the little chocolate squiggle atop this confection of innumeracy.

Let's leave percentages aside for just a moment and look at the raw numbers. Here are the vote totals for the past five elections, using the Portsmouth Town Clerk (the race with the the single most local votes) and the "top of the ticket" contest to represent total Portsmouth turnout.

  Clerk Top of ticket
2012 6,733 9,182
2010 5,806 7,051
2008 7,096 9,740
2006 5,744 8,069
2004 7,918* 9,205
*contested race



Source: RI Board of Elections

Notice something about the numbers — kind of, like, a pattern? The numbers seem to fluctuate regularly. What could possibly be driving that? Oh, yeah, right, 2012, 2008, and 2004 were Presidential elections.

If you pick a local minimum (2010) and only use one other data point (2012) you can make the data say something quite dishonest, because comparing total votes across the range doesn't support the inference the Republicans want to make. As Tufte drilled into us, always ask, "Compared to what?"

And if you're willing to distort the data to support a relatively minor point like turnout, clearly, you cannot be trusted to play fair when there are issues of significance on the table.

Editorial note: I have Tufte's three books within arms' reach, and I'm not afraid to use them.

Portsmouth Republicans struggle with proofreading

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Shool time. Click to embiggen.

Another Portsmouth Republican direct mail piece dropped today, and it's clear that this team has problems with basic proofreading skills.

Take a look at the graphic above Tom Vadney. Yeah, they misspelled "School" in advertising their candidates for school committee. It's quite unfortunate, and it's certainly not Tom's fault — he's much smarter than that. I've served with him on the technology committee, and I intend to vote for him next week, and suggest that supporters of the shools will want to do the same.

The other major blunder is just weird. Take a look at how they caption Dan Reilly's race, compared to Chris Ottiano.

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I don't know what the heck "State Congress" is, but I heartily support the idea of voting for Dan Reilly in District 12. Wherever that might be. Please, by all means, write his name in. (Voters in the actual State Representative District 72, on the other hand, should consider the incumbent Democrat Linda Finn.)

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The "h" is silent.

Add these together with the howler from earlier this week — where they misspelled the name of their former Town Council President on their own web site, and you get a pretty poor impression of the ability of local Republicans to manage a spell checker, let alone a Town budget.

Full disclosure: I am a partisan hack. But I know how to spell.

CVS MinuteClinic teams with Lifespan to enhance access to care

MinuteClinic, the retail medical clinic of CVS Health, and Lifespan, Rhode Island's largest health system, which includes five partner hospitals and multiple physician groups, announced today that they have entered into a clinical collaboration agreement. The affiliation will enhance access to high quality, affordable health care services at MinuteClinic walk-in medical clinics opening inside select CVS/pharmacy stores in Rhode Island beginning later this week.

The new Rhode Island clinics, opening this fall and in 2015, will be located in Cranston, East Greenwich, North Smithfield, Providence, Wakefield, Westerly and Woonsocket.

The collaboration encourages interaction between Lifespan and MinuteClinic providers to improve coordination and access to care for patients seen at MinuteClinic locations. Toward that end, both organizations will integrate their electronic medical records to further promote exchange of clinical information, with patients' permission.

For those patients who do not have regular access to primary care, MinuteClinic provides assistance in finding a primary care physician.

MinuteClinic locations in Rhode Island will be open seven days a week, offering weekday evening hours with no appointment necessary and most health insurance accepted. The clinics will be staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants who provide treatment for common family illnesses and administer wellness and prevention services, including health-condition monitoring for patients with chronic diseases.

"As we have experienced in other states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, MinuteClinic can support the primary care model in Rhode Island by helping to improve access to care, particularly on weekends and evenings when primary care providers may not be available," said Andrew Sussman, M.D., president, MinuteClinic, and senior vice president/ associate chief medical officer, CVS Health. "Through our convenient locations, we're pleased that the state's largest health care system has agreed to affiliate with MinuteClinic to increase access and convenience for patients seeking care."

Both MinuteClinic and Lifespan will eventually use the Epic electronic medical record to streamline communication around all aspects of each patient's care.  MinuteClinic will electronically share medical histories and visit summaries with the patient's primary care provider at Lifespan. MinuteClinic will also send patient visit summaries to primary care providers who are not affiliated with Lifespan via fax or mail with the patient's consent. MinuteClinic will also participate in Current Care, the state's health information exchange. 

Founded in 1994 by Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital, Lifespan is a comprehensive, integrated, academic health system affiliated with The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Lifespan's partners also include Rhode Island Hospital's pediatric facility, Hasbro Children's Hospital; Bradley Hospital and Newport Hospital. It includes a network of 1,842 affiliated physicians throughout the state.

"We're pleased to collaborate with MinuteClinic to improve access and coordination of care for patients seen at clinic locations," said John Murphy, M.D., executive vice president, physician affairs, Lifespan. "We will continue to work with MinuteClinic and with our other physician partners to ensure the appropriate level of care is provided in a timely manner to all patients in our community." 

MinuteClinic nurse practitioners and physician assistants specialize in family health care and can diagnose, treat, and write prescriptions for common illnesses such as strep throat and ear, eye, sinus, bladder, and bronchial infections. Minor wounds, abrasions, skin conditions and joint sprains are treated, and common vaccinations such as influenza, tetanus, pneumonia, pertussis and hepatitis A and B are available at most locations.  In addition, MinuteClinic administers a series of wellness services designed to help patients identify lifestyle changes needed to improve their current and future health, including screenings and monitoring for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Portsmouth Republican flier offers puzzling word salad

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For the past three weeks, the Portsmouth Republicans have had a screaming yellow insert in our local weekly, the Portsmouth Times, and while I generally just laugh at their sad attempts to use cherry-picked statistics to mystify the electorate, I'm still scratching my head over their description of what they call "the new reality."

Gone are the presumptuous times of our past when elected officials believed they were impervious to their spending and taxing appetites and that the taxpayer was forgiving of their every transgression

I can shrug off "presumptuous" and "transgression" as a bad case of thesaurus-induced incoherence, but "officials believed they were impervious to their spending and taxing appetites." Uh...impervious?

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Editorial note: Since David Gleason accused me of being "partisan" today, let me be very clear. THIS is partisan. I am a Democrat, and I am making fun of Republicans who try to talk with big fancy words to dress up their tiny little ideas. That's partisan. When I confront David Gleason for using the Portsmouth 375 logo, and he admits that he did it because he needed cheap signs, that's not a partisan attack. That's me exercising my voice as a citizen and objecting to him taking a public good for his private gain.

Are we clear now, Mr. Gleason, or are you, well, impervious?

Gleason calls use of Portsmouth 375 logo in campaign signs "recycling"

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Council candidate David Gleason at transfer station.

Interviewed at the transfer station this morning about his use of the Portsmouth 375 logo in his campaign signs, Town Council candidate David Gleason defended his use of the mark as "recycling," and asked this reporter if I would "give him money for new signs."

He asked if I would take a statement, and I recorded the following, reproduced verbatim:

"It's been pointed out that I'm re-using the 375th material for my signage. All I want to say is that I'm running a low-budget campaign this year, I'm recycling my literature from 2012, and those signs I purchased in November of 2013 to honor old houses in town and I've just put my logo on them, it was never meant as any more than just recycling materials to run a low-budget campaign. If people want to vote for me, then that would be great. But I just don't have the money. I've spent all the money I've made as a Councilor on projects around town, and I'm hoping people see that for what it's worth, and I'm a recycler at heart. That's the bottom line for me."

Asked how he would respond to those who would say that he was taking a non-partisan logo developed as a public good for the town and degrading it by using it in a partisan fashion for his own personal gain, Gleason responded:

"I would say I never thought about that when I put those signs out, nor do I think it's an issue at this point. Actually, if you look at the sign, it'll say '375 plus one' so I'm just carrying on the tradition honoring Portsmouth history."

Editorial note: Mr. Gleason made the accusation, during the interview, that this was partisan. Let me be very clear. When I post something because I'm a Democrat, I mention that if it's not blatantly obvious from the context. I'm pissed off about this because this was the logo for our Town's 375th anniversary, and he's using it as a campaign prop. What you are hearing right now is not faux partisan outrage; I'm personally offended and personally angry.

Portsmouth Council candidate uses Town anniversary logo in signs

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Click for original.

At least two signs for Independent Town Council candidate David Gleason contain the official logo used by Portsmouth for its 375th anniversary celebration. The signs — located on West Main Road and Union and on Park Ave next to the landfill — appear to have been made by attaching a Gleason campaign message to existing Portsmouth 375 signage.

I sent the following e-mail to the co-chairs of the Portsmouth 375 Committee, the Town Administrator, and the Town Council, cc'ing local media.

From: jmcdaid@torvex.com

Date: Sat, 25 Oct 2014 08:24:31 -0400

To: taiping35@cox.net, ggump1@verizon.net, JKlimm@portsmouthri.com, jseveney@portsmouthri.com, jblaess@portsmouthri.com, mbuddemeyer@portsmouthri.com, dgleason@portsmouthri.com, khamilton@portsmouthri.com, mmagee@portsmouthri.com, contactlizpedro@aol.com

Cc: jmcgaw@eastbaynewspapers.com, johnson@newportri.com

Subject: Misuse of Portsmouth 375 logo for campaign material by David Gleason

To the Portsmouth 375 Committee and Town Council:
As a founding member of and donor to the Portsmouth 375 Committee, I am outraged that the official logo developed by Roskelly is being used on campaign signs by Town Council candidate David Gleason (See attached photo).

This beautiful, award-winning logo was developed by Roskelly, Inc. as a non-partisan representation of our town, and it was intended to celebrate our whole community, as its use in many communications and official materials over the past years attest.

Using it in political advertising degrades the brand equity of this mark and does irrevocable damage to this important symbol. I'm publicly calling on Mr. Gleason to remove this from his signs, and I urge Portsmouth's Council and administration to support this position.

Best Regards.
-John

Full disclosure: There's not much in politics that makes me lose my cool. Most of the time, I can just accept that, hey, sketchy stuff happens. But this is different. Roskelly did such a beautiful, poetic mark for the Town's 375th anniversary celebration that it makes me really angry to see it reduced to political signage.

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