NEW YORK — A big Broadway stage can leave even the most confident performer feeling a bit lonely. Not Emily Padgett or Erin Davie these days.
The actresses play conjoined twins in "Side Show" and they're actually physically tethered to each other's hip for most of the musical by zippers, magnets and thread.
"You're up there singing these big numbers and you're not alone. You can feel the warmth of somebody else. I think it's the best, actually. You're never alone," says Davie.
"Literally," says Padgett, laughing.
Both are blonde with similar vital statistics and impressive Broadway credits. They were strangers before they were cast together 1½ years ago and are now closer than many sisters.
"We know each other pretty well," says Padgett. "She knows if I'm in a don't-talk-to-me place. And I know if she's in a thoughtful space. We can feel our vibes really well."
For an interview backstage, they sit on Padgett's dressing room couch and snuggle under the same blanket in the same position they appear onstage — Davie to Padgett's left.
They're so naturally close that Davie at one point apologizes to her co-star for any lingering garlic smell from her dinner. "I don't want to breathe on your face," she says.
In the show, the duo play Violet and Daisy Hilton, real-life twins who were vaudeville headliners in the early 1930s. The musical charts their rise from backwater circus freaks and explores their love interests.
Getting Padgett and Davie connected and in synch is largely the job of costume designer Paul Tazewell and choreographer Anthony Van Laast. They had to make it possible for the actresses to share over a dozen costumes and dance effortlessly in unison. The actresses also had to be able to change outfits in as little as 15 seconds.
Van Laast, whose credits include "Sister Act" and "Bombay Dreams," admits the idea "terrified" him at first. As an experiment, he sewed together two pairs of boxer shorts, and he and an assistant put them on to learn how the twins must have moved. Those makeshift boxers were later put on Padgett and Davie.
"What happened is that, organically, they got used to moving together," he says. "And that was a really interesting process. After a couple of weeks, they got really fed up with that. And then we worked out other ways of linking them so that they could actually have a bit of a separate life."
Physical differences between the two women soon began to vanish: Padgett wears blue contact lenses to mirror Davie's eye color, and has a bigger heel so she also can stand 5-foot-7. Davie even dyed her hair a little blonder to match Padgett. Thankfully, the two women' proportions from hip to toe are similar, so their strides line up well.
Tazewell, who designed the costumes for "Magic/Bird" and the recent revival of "Jesus Christ Superstar," created outfits with built-in connectors — sewn-together bodysuits, zippers and even 3-inch long hidden magnets.
He designed outfits that ranged from sexy flapper dresses to rich gowns, making sure patterns and beading radiated out from the connected hips and design details in one dress mirrored the other.
"It was important to know where to trick the eye," he said.
Their voices, too, have melded. While both women are sopranos, Padgett gravitates to power pop in shows like "Rock of Ages," ''Legally Blonde" and "Grease," while Davie's is more classically orientated, having been in "Grey Gardens" and "A Little Night Music."
"We've met perfectly in the middle. It's been kind of cool that way," says Padgett. "She's helped me so much with the soprano and I've helped with the belty stuff."
Whatever happens when the show opens later this month, they have each other. Rarely have co-stars been so close. And that helps alleviate the stage stress.
"It takes some pressure off to not be the only one carrying the show," says Padgett, looking at her almost-twin. "It's nice because you do have someone to share it with."
Mark Kennedy is on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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