Bill Russell professed to be delighted beyond words when he heard that an Oscar-winning screenwriter was interested in reviving his original Broadway show.
'There's been a lot of interest over the years in doing a revival of 'Side Show,'" he explained. "A major regional theater was exploring a production five or six years ago, but we didn't know who would direct. The composer, Henry Krieger, had just done the movie, 'Dreamgirls,' directed by Bill Condon who won an Oscar for his screenplay for 'Gods and Monsters.' Henry asked Bill if he might be interested in directing a 'Side Show' revival and he said yes. I was over the moon at that news. Working with Henry and Bill on the revised version of the show has been the most exciting creative experience of my career."
Russell, who presented "Side Show" at Morningside College in 2008, returns next weekend for a writer's workshop. He was not surprised by the interest in the musical -- the story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton.
"Ever since the show closed on Broadway in January 1998, I think I've been asked at least once a week when it's coming back," he said.
Though "Side Show" was on Broadway almost 16 years ago, it has received a fair number of stock and amateur productions in the intervening years, Russell noted.
"I personally directed it at the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul in 2002 and a concert version at Morningside," he said. "In addition to many productions in the U.S., it's been done in Tokyo twice in Japanese and filmed for cable TV there, toured Sweden in Swedish and was recently presented in Germany in German."
And there are some real "Side Show" fanatics out there, Russell added.
"This one guy will fly practically anywhere to see any production -- high schools, it doesn't matter," he said. "The first night he'll get a ticket house left to experience the Daisy show and the next night sit house right for the Violet experience."
Russell acknowledged the show is often described as having a cult following.
"It may not be widely known, but if you ask any musical theater aficionado or performers they will definitely know of it and could probably sing some of the songs," he said. "When we opened on Broadway, it was an unknown property with no stars. Now, a lot of people are not only aware of it, but passionate about it. We're only hoping the cult grows with this exciting new mounting."
Russell clarified this "Side Show" version is a more a "revisal" than a revival.
"We've done quite a bit of work on it and I'm sure we'll do more. Bill Condon has been totally immersed in directing the final two 'Twilight' films for the past two years," he said. "When people ask, I tell them that although almost all of the big numbers that people know and love are still in the show, there's a substantial amount of new material -- both music and book wise."
But even a revival of the original version would be warranted in Russell's opinion.
"The show had a relatively brief run on Broadway and many people didn't really discover it until the original cast recording was released a month prior to the show closing," he said. "So I'm happy to say there are legions of fans out there who have discovered it through the recording but have never seen a production."
It will be curtain up for "Side Show" at the La Jolla Playhouse in California in October 2013 and then move to the Kennedy Center in June 2014. Russell hopes Broadway will be the next stop.
"Both the La Jolla Playhouse and the Kennedy Center are highly regarded regional theaters which have transferred many shows to Broadway, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility," he said. "Bill Condon has also been saying for years that he'd love to make a movie of it."
Russell, a native of Deadwood, S.D., who attended Morningside College, is also heavily involved in this endeavor.
"Major!" he emphasized of his involvement. "Even if we weren't doing extensive rewriting, authors have approval of casting, designers, and so on, so I'd definitely be there. But because of all the rewrites there will be a lot to fine-tune when we get this new version on its feet."