Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at Theatre Building Chicago. Book and lyrics by Bill Russell. Music by Henry Krieger. Dir. Stephen M. Genovese. With Vanessa Panerosa, Andrea Prestinario.
This 1997 musical is a loose adaptation of the story of the original celebrity Hilton sisters, the conjoined twins Daisy and Violet, who got their start in circus sideshows before attaining success in vaudeville. Russell and Krieger focus on the twins’ uncomfortable rise to fame and their relationships with the men in their lives. Daisy (Panerosa) wants fame and fortune, while Violet (Prestinario) longs for a normal life with a husband and a home. Each of them falls for a man who puts his own interests ahead of theirs.
In the abstract, the story is strikingly similar to Krieger’s Broadway hit Dreamgirls: The talented girl knocked around by her handlers realizes only she can look out for herself. Here, of course, it’s the two talented girls literally joined at the hip who realize they can only trust each other. Krieger’s poppy music seems less suited for this 1920s and ’30s story than for the Motown-era Dreamgirls, and Russell’s lyrics—“I can see us floating to the stars in a magic boat”—can be horrifying. But the Boho production, like the Hiltons, is greater than the sum of its parts. The lead performances by Panerosa and Prestinario are, as they must be, a wonder of tandem cooperation and conflict. Late in the show, when the sisters simultaneously realize their dreams are dashed, they wordlessly establish the most intense connection we’re likely to see onstage this year—while facing away from one another. —Kris Vire