(Cover Photo: The CAST of the musical "ASSASSINS" by John Weidman and Stephen Sondheim now playing at Colonial Chorus Players in Reading, MA. through February 11, 2024. Photo Credit Sabrina Ornae Photography)
By Kevin T. Baldwin
“Lots of madmen have had their say, but only for a day.”
- John Weidman and Stephen Sondheim
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr. Playwrights Horizons, Inc. - New York City produced "ASSASSINS" Off-Broadway in 1990 Orchestrations by Michael Starobin.
Directed by Andrew Rhodes
Musical Direction by Alan Freedman
Produced by Amy Oldenquist and Heather Rotondi
Stage Management by Jen Ryan Gelzleichter
Assistant Directed by James Hunt
Cast Includes: Sean Perry as “John Wilkes Booth,” Dan Kelly as “Charles Guiteau,” Andrew Haber as “Leon Czolgosz,” Robb Laureles as “Giuseppe Zangara,” Stephen Russo as “Samuel Byck,” Abby Seidel as “Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme,” Michelle Doucet as “Sara Jane Moore,” Adam Sell as “John Hinckley,” Declan Geoffrion Scannell as “Lee Harvey Oswald/Ensemble,” Daniel Monopoli as “Balladeer,” Kaitlin Smith as “Emma Goldman/Ensemble,” Kyle Rys as “The Proprietor/Ensemble,” Lennie Chasse as “Gerald Ford/Ensemble,” Milo Wiston as “James Garfield/Ensemble,” Kelly Duffy as “Ensemble”
February 2, 2024 through February 11, 2024
(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)
Old Hose House Theater, 1249 Main Street, Reading, MA
Please email the Colonial Chorus Box Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May contain content not suitable for all audiences.
COVID 19 PROTOCOLS
Contact Venue for Most Updated COVID-19 Safety Protocols and Information.
(Note: The following review is of a final dress rehearsal held on 02-01-2024)
A volatile show, "ASSASSINS" almost instantly generates polarizing opinions and that is 100 percent intentional.
It should be emphasized from the outset: the CCP production takes place in a small, confined space and, as such, it brings the material closer to you, the audience.
That said, it also is a show in which every "ASSASSIN" brandishes a weapon and, occasionally, prop "cap" guns do go off with a sound which some might find discomforting.
However, it should also be emphasized the staging has been done responsibly in this area, as well.
With the above in mind, though, should you or someone in your party be sensitive to the sound of gunfire (even prop "cap" gun gunfire), you may want to keep this in mind.
Featuring a book by John Weidman, based on an original concept by Charles Gilbert Jr., the Tony-winning "ASSASSINS" explores the historical darker impulses of nine people to kill or try to kill U.S. Presidents.
This may not be everyone’s favorite Sondheim musical (and, full disclosure, it isn't mine) but the CCP production is admirable in many ways, featuring some clever staging and a fine cast.
Some people, though, might feel that "ASSASSINS" is among Sondheim's BEST work, with its abstract narrative, impeccably crafted score and brooding libretto.
Whatever side of the debate one might find themselves at, it is a musical that continues to spur on important and much needed discussions on the high cost of “celebrity” in America.
“Celebrity,” in this case, is not applied to the victims but rather to those who preyed upon them.
"ASSASSINS" opened Off-Broadway in 1990 but it was not a “critics’ darling” to be sure, although the musical did garner Sondheim a Drama League Award for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theatre.
Receiving tepid or just plain negative reviews, the show ran for only 73 performances.
Yet, in 2004, the Broadway revival received great praise and won five Tony Awards, including Orchestrations by Michael Starobin, Lighting Design by Peggy Eisenhauer and Jules Fisher, and Best Revival of a Musical.
The 2004 production would also receive a Drama Desk Award, Drama League Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Revival, as well.
(Photo: Michelle Doucet as “Sara Jane Moore,” Sean Perry as “John Wilkes Booth,” Andrew Haber as “Leon Czolgosz,” and Dan Kelly as “Charles Guiteau” become shooting stars in the musical "ASSASSINS" by John Weidman and Stephen Sondheim now playing at Colonial Chorus Players in Reading, MA. through February 11, 2024. Photo Credit Sabrina Ornae Photography)
In a fascinating carnival-like atmosphere, historical villains (and let’s be clear - they were villains) gather together, seemingly pulled either out of their time or from some hellish limbo in which they now exist, just to appear in this musical.
Fun fact: SOME of these "charmers" are still alive - like the real John Hinckley, Jr. (now 68-years-old), Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (now 75) and Sara Jane Moore (now 93). Their respective reactions to the Sondheim show are unknown.
It also should be noted that, while this is a Sondheim musical, there are multiple moments of extended dialogue and monologues, almost indicating Sondheim felt he would be taking something away from the John Weidman book if he tried to score these moments...and he very well may have been correct.
For nearly two continuous hours (no intermission) "ASSASSINS" holds up a mirror to American society as it attempts to reveal a deeper reasoning behind why these troubled…or perhaps, just plain evil…men and women committed these deadly deeds.
Bouncing around in time, or in a "non-linear" format, "ASSASSINS" looks, in no small part, to what actually is “The American Dream” – in the eyes of society’s ill, impoverished, languished, rejected or, worst of all, dismissed - posing questions about the purpose of this country and what people…THESE people…expected from it and what they felt drawn to do in order to achieve the “dream.”
In Weidman’s text, it does not feel like either he, or Sondheim in his score, expects us to pity, praise or pardon any of these persons…only to look at the motivating factors behind their acts to, perhaps, gain a better understanding.
As the show begins, the stage is filled with flags, lights and other adornments.
“Everybody’s Got the Right” begins the musical, as a “Proprietor” (Kyle Rys) beckons to each of the "ASSASSINS" to have some fun and "shoot a President” - then handing each "would be killer" a weapon to go and carry out their assassination agenda.
The “Proprietor” caters to the fateful few who each seek some kind of “radical change” in America.
Rys is a fine singer giving an adept performance as a veritable guide' for the first half of the show, soon disappearing as the "ASSASSINS" slowly take over.
We are introduced to the killers, one by one, in songs and scenes, beginning with the “Ballad of Booth” which focuses on one John Wilkes Booth (Sean Perry), the actor who murdered President Abraham Lincoln.
Perry is charismatic as the malevolent spirit that is this musical's depicted Booth character, who purportedly saw himself as a patriot and Lincoln as a tyrant.
(Photo: Abby Seidel as “Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme” and Adam Sell as “John Hinckley” appear on stage with Jodie Foster (pictured far right) in a scene from the musical "ASSASSINS" by John Weidman and Stephen Sondheim now playing at Colonial Chorus Players in Reading, MA. through February 11, 2024. Photo Credit Sabrina Ornae Photography)
It is important to remember that "ASSASSINS" does not give us full biographical "re-creations" of these twisted individuals - only a glimpse into the shared motivations of these representative characters.
There may have been far more behind the eyes of each of these actual odious souls but there would never be enough time to explore them all here.
Thankfully, we have the "Balladeer" (Daniel Monopoli) who gives us a sung "Reader's Digest" version of several characters. Monopoli is an excellent vocalist and is perfectly suited to the Sondheim material.
During “How I Saved Roosevelt” the deeply troubled immigrant Giuseppe Zangara (Robb Laureles) attempts to achieve fame by killing FDR and falls "short" of his goal, yet still ending up in the electric chair.
“The Ballad of Czolgosz,” focuses on laborer and anarchist Leon Czolgosz (Andrew Haber) who slew President William McKinley.
In “The Ballad of Guiteau” we are presented with "ASSASSIN" Charles Guiteau (Dan Kelly) a demented idealist who praised his twisted actions and motivations behind them even after he shot President James A. Garfield in the back, ultimately killing him.
Kelly does a commendable job as the flamboyantly strange Guiteau.
Kelly, Laureles and Haber all provide fine depictions of three mentally agitated men, separated by nearly half a century but all sharing in the belief that the government, specifically each of their targeted Presidents, posed a personal threat to them.
Similarly, two of Weidman’s best monologues come as part of insane diatribes on President Richard M. Nixon both evoked by another wannabe murderer, Samuel Byck (Stephen Russo in possibly the funniest performance in the show).
(Photo: Michelle Doucet as “Sara Jane Moore” chats with Abby Seidel as “Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme” over a bucket of the colonel's chicken in a moment from the musical "ASSASSINS" by John Weidman and Stephen Sondheim now playing at Colonial Chorus Players in Reading, MA. through February 11, 2024. Photo Credit Sabrina Ornae Photography)
As to "relevance," this review is not going to do a "deep dive" into each killer's motive. That's why God invented Google Search and Wikipedia.
All the "ASSASSINS," at least as represented here, have a “commonality” for their varied motivations for the killings or attempted murders.
All of the CCP actors, under the discerning direction of Andrew Rhodes, portray this "rogues gallery" thoughtfully and are completely invested in presenting them honestly and properly.
The audience is not expected to be judge, jury nor executioner here. Each of these predators already received their judgment long, long ago.
In "ASSASSINS," we are only expected to allow for this unconventional conceptual approach - and even more so this unconventional musical perspective to help, maybe, enlighten us on their respective actions.
Charles Manson-influenced psychopath Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme (Abby Seidel) has some delightfully odd conversations with her nutty rivaling Gerald Ford “assassin-hopeful,” Sara Jane Moore (Michelle Doucet).
As the only female (would-be) "ASSASSINS" in the show, Seidel and Doucet display fine chemistry on stage. Their spoken exchange is long enough to make one wonder if it might have been better served if scored by Sondheim but, then again, who are we to second guess?
Another less successful "ASSASSIN" is John Hinckley (Adam Sell) who provides his motivation for trying to kill President Ronald Reagan as part of his obsession with young Jodie Foster, in the haunting tune “Unworthy of Your Love” sung nicely in a duet with Seidel who emotes of Squeaky’s own true love, Charles Manson.
Which brings us to Lee Harvey Oswald (Declan Geoffrion Scannell) who, as we discover during “November 22, 1963,” opts for murder instead of suicide, seemingly “guided” throughout by that malignant spirit of John Wilkes Booth.
While the Oswald character does not appear until the end of the musical, but Scannell makes fine use of this brief time on stage with a high caliber performance (pun intended).
(Photo: Dan Kelly as “Charles Guiteau” in the musical "ASSASSINS" by John Weidman and Stephen Sondheim now playing at Colonial Chorus Players in Reading, MA. through February 11, 2024. Photo Credit Sabrina Ornae Photography)
The supporting Ensemble (Lennie Chasse, Kelly Duffy, Milo Wiston and Kaitlin Smith) all do well portraying a variety of characters important to the various stories told.
Since the space for the production is confined, the use of projection screens enhances the visceral experience. Costumes are also thoroughly appropriate for each of the characters represented.
Under the music direction of Alan Freedman, the cast is solid and musically the show flows very well. Some of the required set redressing did not flow as smoothly (but, again, to be fair, this was a final dress rehearsal).
Here we are, in 2024, and "ASSASSINS" could easily be seen as the paradigm for other cautionary tales when looking at the fractured state of affairs in these United States of America.
In a world so ideologically splintered, so deeply divided in debates over gun violence and the Second Amendment, we need new ways that explore the motivating factors that drive people to do the evil they do.
"ASSASSINS," in the insightful staging by CCP director Rhodes, does this exploration in a commendable way, juxtaposed with the clever use of recurring “folk-based” Americana material contained within the Sondheim score.
Whether we choose to accept it (or not), whether we choose to WANT to acknowledge it (or not), in "ASSASSINS" vivid storytelling, ultimately, we cannot dismiss those factors which led to these tragic historical events.
Not to alarm anyone but, just as a reminder...history never stops unfolding.
Approximately one hour, 50 minutes with no intermission
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)
A darkly humorous musical that reminds us that not all American dreams should come true.
With the American dream out of reach, nine of the most notorious figures in our nation’s history ignite a chain of monumental nightmares.
The white picket fence is set on fire in Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s tragically funny and unnerving musical which peers inside the shattered minds of successful and attempted presidential assassins from John Wilkes Booth to John Hinckley, Jr.
This gallery of historical misfits jolts us into their blurry points of view with unapologetic humor, fiery anthems, carefree tunes, and unbridled energy that boldly blurs the lines between ambition and madness.
COLONIAL CHORUS PLAYERS (established 1961) provides quality theatrical entertainment that showcases the diverse talents of our family of members and volunteers, both on and off stage, and educates people of all ages in the theater arts through mentoring, workshops and summer programs.
To provide a vital performing arts outlet that inspires creative community involvement, educating and supporting lovers of musical theater and the arts, while producing quality entertainment. This includes our dream of renovating and expanding the Old Hose House into a state-of-the-art blackbox theater and rehearsal space.
Reading, MA 01867