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Twin Power

A Hollywood hit-maker doubles down at La Jolla Playhouse.

Oscar winner Bill Condon breathes new life into Side Show at La Jolla Playhouse.

A Paul Tazewell costume sketch for Violet and Daisy, conjoined twins, vaudeville performers and Side Show stars

While La Jolla Playhouse (lajollaplayhouse.org) has a decades-long tradition of developing Broadway-bound works, recent shows might indicate they’re on the cusp of an entirely different trend: Last year’s Tony-nominated hit, Hands on a Hardbody, featured a cast physically connected to a car. This year’s would-be Playhouse hit features two women who are joined at the hip—literally.

Real-life conjoined twins Violet and Daisy, vaudeville stars in the 1930s, are at the heart of Side Show (previews start Nov. 5), the Tony-nominated 1997 musical that receives a reimagination from original writers Bill Russell and Henry Krieger and director Bill Condon.

An Academy Award-winning screenwriter (Gods and Monsters) and director whose big-screen adaptations of Broadway hits (Chicago, Dreamgirls) have been major commercial successes, Condon changes tack with Side Show, stepping out from behind the movie lens to direct a stage production that he says is now “about 60 percent new.” The updated Playhouse production includes five new Krieger songs. “Henry wrote four new songs on Dreamgirls, and three of them were nominated for an Oscar,” says Condon, who counts collaborating with Krieger among the La Jolla production’s allures. “I had such a great experience with Henry [on Dreamgirls], had always wanted to do something onstage and had been mildly obsessed with this show,” he confesses.

The contrast between San Diego life and Hollywood factored as well. Condon recalls driving to meet scenic designer David Rockwell for dinner downtown at Hard Rock Hotel’s Nobu (which Rockwell, also an architect, designed). “When you take that drive down [from L.A.] and see that beautiful skyline, and then there’s a great urban experience down there... it’s a step ahead of Los Angeles,” Condon says. He laughs and adds, “Then you get to go and do theater right by the beach.”

Encore!
The Tony Awards are no stranger to La Jolla Playhouse. After its local run, Side Show heads to The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with an East Coast trajectory that could easily follow in the footsteps of such Tony-winning La Jolla exports as Jersey Boys, Memphis and Peter and the Starcatcher.

The current production stacks the deck with a creative team featuring some of the hottest talents in theater today. After Tony nods for Memphis and the 2012 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, costume designer Paul Tazewell takes on the challenge of creating Side Show’s 1930s couture for carnies, midway freaks and, of course, the conjoined challenge of Daisy and Violet Hilton. Meanwhile, scenic designer David Rockwell garnered two nominations last year for Tony darlings Kinky Boots and Lucky Guy.

With 2013 Tony Lighting Design winners Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Lucky Guy) illuminating the path, it’s clear why Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley can’t wait to see how this team “breathes bewitching new life” into the 1997 hit.

Judging by La Jolla’s track record, neither can the rest of the country.