Farmington Players to Present ASSASSINS, 2/14-3/1

"Everybody's got the right to some sunshine." Nine characters looking for either love, equality or a common voice, deliver that message on The Farmington Players stage in the Stephen Sondheim musical, Assassins. They are determined to change the world by targeting the United States President in pursuit of their own twisted versions of "The American Dream."

Assassins won 5 Tony Awards for its Broadway revival in 2004. Sondheim (music & lyrics) created the riveting musical with John Weidman (book) basing it on an idea by Charles Gilbert Jr. The show (sponsored by The Center for Financial Planning, Inc.) opens Friday February 14th at The Farmington Players Barn in Farmington Hills. Tickets are available at or at the box office (248) 553-2955.

Director Mike Smith of Royal Oak feels Assassins is a compelling history lesson, a "killer" black comedy with the power to move people, while educating them about some of America's darkest times - the product of nine Presidential Assassins, four who turned out to be killers. "Assassins is first-rate entertainment that presents American history with all its warts and foibles," says Smith. In doing so, the show includes profanity and gun violence, so it is not recommended for children under high school age.

With that in mind, The Barn is encouraging high school and college students to enjoy a special performance on Presidents Day, Monday February 17. All students will get tickets at half-price, with a complimentary ticket given to a teacher who brings a group of 10 or more students.

The show's premise: Put Assassins together in "Purgatory" a carnival setting that erases all boundaries of space and time, allowing them the freedom to share their madness in the form of music (including a barbershop quartet singing about their fondness for guns). The effect: Although the subject matter is dark, Smith says it makes for some great theater. "I don't think this show is any darker than other productions out there," he says. "Look at Les Miserables as an example or Miss Saigon. Good dramatic theater often takes the most disturbing parts of society or individual character and presents it to an audience. It's an effort to examine the infinite depths of the human condition . . . to see who we are as human beings."

The key is to make those people relatable. That's accomplished with a stage full of colorful characters demonstrating the terrible contrasts between their reasoning and their legacy. Giuseppe Zangara (who tried to kill Franklin Roosevelt), is played by Bob Cox of Plymouth. Zangara "meets his maker" while singing a stunning number -- the entire time strapped to the electric chair; The insane Charles Guiteau (assassin of President James Garfield) who performs a bizarre cakewalk to the gallows, is played by Barry Cutler of Ferndale; John Hinckley Jr. who tried to kill Ronald Reagan, is played by Nick Rapson, strumming a guitar and singing a love song to a photograph of actress Jodie Foster; Squeaky Fromme (Alex Spittle) and Sara Jane Moore (Barb Bruno) offer comic relief in their plot to kill Gerald Ford; Keith Janoch of Farmington Hills plays Leon Czolgosz , who was born in Michigan and lived in Detroit as a child. Czolgosz blames President William Mckinley for "the poor man's pain." Michael Soave of Ferndale delivers a passionate performance as Sam Byck, while driving to the airport to hijack a plane as part of his plot to kill President Richard Nixon. Dan Crosby (Livonia) shines as Lee Harvey Oswald, coaxed by Assassins to fire his deadly shot at John F. Kennedy; and David Galido (Novi) plays John Wilkes Booth, the ringleader who started it all by killing Abraham Lincoln, and who functions as sort of an "avenging angel."

Jason Wilhoite of Commerce Township translates the Assassins' feats into folk music as the clean-cut narrator "The Balladeer," skillfully weaving his sardonic comments through various chapters of American History. And Keith Firstenberg of Livonia plays the devilish "Proprietor," intent on dragging the Assassins into the abyss. The cast is rounded out by a wonderful ensemble: Erik Elwell (Farmington Hills), Jane Firstenberg (Livonia), Jim Moll (Farmington Hills), Martin Rinke (Royal Oak), Pat Rodgers (Novi) and Patrick Whener (Birmingham).

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