Monday, April 3, 2017

Review of "Assassins"

A musical about Presidential assassins and would-be assailants is the highly unusual, somewhat creepy, premise for a full-fledged musical.  Yet, in 1990 Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman created such a show called, aptly, Assassins, which is receiving a spirited and passionate production at Yale Rep through April 8th.
The cast of Assassins, book by John Weidman, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, directed by James Bundy.
Photo by Carol Rosegg, 2017.
The production features an impressive ensemble cast, who bring to life the irrationality and disturbed state of each person.  Librettist Weidman mashes up groups of characters as well as scrutinizing their individual foibles and beliefs.  He tries to get into the soul of each person through probing vignettes that examine their backstory.  He is successful in creating three-dimensional characters, most mentally ill, hold unfounded grudges or are deranged nationalists.  The rogue’s gallery includes John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln; Charles Guiteau, the assassin of President James Garfield; Lee Harvey Oswald, who shot John F. Kennedy; and John Hinckley, who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.   

The score by Stephen Sondheim echoes the time-period reflected by each Presidential era.  The songs explore the human condition and failed dreams of the protagonists.  Passionately sung with urgent and probing lyrics and melodies this is the work of a mature artist at the peak of his craft.
P. J. Griffith, Julia Murney, Stephen DeRosa, and Robert Lenzi in Assassins, book by John Weidman, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, directed by James Bundy.
Photo by Carol Rosegg, 2017.
The acting troupe is outstanding.  Each person thoroughly embodies their character, mostly with chilling effectiveness.  While every member is superb, standouts include Stephen DeRosa as the delusional Charles Guiteau; Dylan Frederick as the Balladeer, who comments on the proceedings and as the languid and unsure assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; Richard R. Henry as the unbalanced Nixon hater Samuel Byck; Robert Lenzi as the self-important, courtly John Wilkes Booth; Lauren Molina as the Charles Manson loving Lynnete "Squeaky" Fromme; and Julia Murney as a pathetic and distressed Sara Jane Moore.

Director James Bundy plays on the theme of the carnival setting by injecting menace, the unknown and even humor into the production.  He is keenly attuned to the desperation and torment of the characters, weaving their stories together in a socio-pathetic interpretive dance.  The strength, however, of the show is when the focus is on the individual assailant and their inner turmoil. 

Assassins, a chance to see the rarely revived Weidman/Sondheim collaboration, playing at Yale Rep through April 8th.

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