Gab Pangilinan, Kayla Rivera on playing conjoined twins in ‘Side Show’

Gab Pangilinan and Kayla Rivera in a scene from Side Show

Easily one of the most talked about ongoing shows is Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment’s production of the acclaimed Broadway musical, Side Show, which opened last 31 August and will continue to run until 23 September at the RCBC Plaza in Makati City.

Much has been said about Side Show being the theater debut of rock singer Wency Cornejo and indeed the former After Image frontman did not disappoint with a memorable performance as the menacing ringmaster, Sir.

But just as deserving of the accolades (and the show’s standing ovations) are Gab Pangilinan and Kayla Rivera who both delivered captivating and, oftentimes, in sync portrayals of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. As a matter of fact, it was the twins’ real-life story that served as the basis for Side Show which is directed by Steven Conde and features music by Henry Krieger, book and lyrics by Bill Russell and additional book material by Bill Condon.

Best known for her role as Nancy Jane, one of Jasmine Curtis-Smith’s call center officemates in D5 Studio’s web series, Forever Sucks, Gab has been doing theater for quite a while and has appeared in Godspell and Tagu-Taguan Nasaan ang Buwan onstage. Most recently, Gab has seamlessly integrated herself as an ensemble cast member in this year’s staging of PETA’s Rak of Aegis. Side Show is her biggest role to date.

Kayla Rivera, on the other hand, is an even more familiar face. The artist formerly known as K-La Rivera is an accomplished singer and recording artist who made her acclaimed theater debut in Atlantis’ production of In The Heights in 2011. Since then, she has also played lead roles in other Atlantis shows like Aladdin and Carrie.

Gab Pangilinan and Kayla Rivera (Photo by Yummie Dingding/Concept News Central)
Gab Pangilinan and Kayla Rivera (Photo by Yummie Dingding/Concept News Central)

In a recent interview with this writer, both Gab and Kayla talked about their Side Show experience. Excerpts:

How challenging is it to play conjoined twins?

Gab: The lines go, “I’m Daisy. I’m Violet. We’re nothing alike.” We have to move, act, sing, dance as one unit, but at the same time, still remain individuals. It’s difficult but working together with Kayla makes the challenge doable and all the more fun to accomplish. Also, it’s a major plus that Kayla and I get along so well.

Kayla: At times throughout the rehearsal process, we would have back/leg pains as we would often compensate and place a bit more weight on one leg to ensure our hips were always intact. Communication, coordination and patience were all so important, especially in the times of learning our choreography for our dance numbers. I’m so grateful to have been partnered up with Gab and couldn’t imagine going through the experience of being a conjoined twin with anyone else.

How did you approach your respective characters particularly in deference to your ‘twin’ co-actor?

Gab: Daisy is sassy, brave and ambitious. She knows what she wants and goes for it. I tried to understand Daisy’s character as a whole—why she would say this, what made her do this, who she is in comparison to her sister. I loved getting to know her character because many of her qualities [that] I could see in myself. It also helped that I actually have a sister who I see as my “real life Violet” [so] there was no need to manufacture any feelings whatsoever. Having a sister helped me relate to my character more organically.

The sibling quarrels, close relationships, reading each other’s minds, and simply the sisterhood in totality—it’s all real.

Kayla: Violet is the introverted twin who longs for a simple life, which includes a husband and a home. Even though she is fully aware of what her heart yearns for, despite her and Daisy’s physical condition, it’s evident that as much as she is an individual, she feels most at ease when she receives assurance from Daisy who is more outspoken and a risk-taker.

In real life, Gab and I are very similar to our respective roles, so thankfully we didn’t have to look too far for inspiration in portraying Daisy and Violet in the most genuine way possible.

If you were to switch roles, how would you portray Daisy or Violet?

Gab: When I was cast as Daisy and people found out, they weren’t too sure about it because in their heads, I seemed more like a Violet—nice, friendly, sweet. But when they found out who my twin was, they immediately said, “Ok that’s about right!” because Kayla is apparently nicer, friendlier, sweeter than I am. Of course, when I met her, I had to agree.

Violet would be fun to play because despite having a few similarities to Daisy, I may be a lot like Violet too. I’m not as confrontational as Daisy is. I’m also the hopeless romantic who would want a husband and a home.

Kayla: Actually, Gab and I have talked about this a few times and as much as I love Daisy’s character, I’m not sure I could bring justice to her role like Gab has. She has brought Daisy to life in a way that has so much poise and grace but is charming and sassy at the same time. Gab’s natural ability to sing, dance and act really shines when she plays Daisy.

Were you friends before Side Show? Did you become even closer because of it?

Gab: I first met Kayla in 2012 during the In the Heights rerun where she played the lead. I was an intern in Atlantis back then. We never got to interact back then but I was already a fan because I loved In the Heights! When I found out she was to be my twin months ago, I messaged her and because we were so excited, we just kept messaging each other back and forth until [we started rehearsals]. We clicked instantly and yes, we definitely became closer. We’re clingy with each other and we love it. She’s now a sister to me and my family has already adopted her.

Kayla: We have gone from being acquaintances to being inseparable because of Side Show.

As soon as we knew we were [playing] the Hilton sisters, we began messaging each other via Instagram while I was still studying in Canada and she was doing Rak of Aegis here in Manila. We’ve definitely become closer because of Side Show as we’ve spent the past six weeks literally at each other’s side. I’ve witnessed first-hand how Gab is the definition of being talented while she is equally beautiful both on the inside and outside. I’m beyond grateful and proud to call her a friend that I now consider a sister.