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 www.farmingtonplayers.org 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).
Rachael Rose of Waterford Township directs a mesmerizing score set to uniquely popular American sounds, of ballads, waltzes, hymns, marches, and fairground music as well as Bluegrass and Dixie. Audiences will find themselves tapping toes to the witty and bitter lyrics of tunes like, "Everybody's Got The Right," "The Ballad Of Booth," "The Gun Song," "Unworthy Of Your Love," and "Another National Anthem."
While the upbeat and catchy score is quite thought provoking, Rose also considers it a challenging work that will captivate crowds. "For actors and musicians alike, just when you think you have the idea of where the music is going, he (Sondheim) changes it on you and it's heading in a different direction," says Rose. "All the actors have to work together because the music is almost always each of them having a piece of a conversation and when put together in the whole and done well, it is exquisite and a complete conversation or narrative. It is no easy task and this cast is doing a fantastic job of bringing not only the characters to life, but also the music and themes that Mr. Sondheim intended. "
Smith considers that a recipe for "great theater."
"Stephen Sondheim set up Assassins as an analysis of the possibilities and failures of the American Dream," says Smith. "In some small way, each Assassin had their idea of what America should be about - their "prize" - albeit an idea clouded by delusion, anger and psychosis."
In the push for their "prize" the Assassins can be both humorous and horrifying - their methods and madness moving us to question our own future.
"I want the audience to walk away from this production thinking about what THEIR version of the American Dream is, and asking themselves if they're taking the steps to make it happen," says Director Mike Smith. "If a carnival barker was handing out the American Dream as a prize, what would you do to get it? Great theater - whether a hysterical farce or a dark drama like Assassins - makes us examine and learn and feel."
--Even when you have killers singing about sunshine.
The Farmington Players Barn is located at 32332 W. 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills Michigan 48334. It's the big white barn on the north side of 12 mile between Orchard Lake and Farmington Rd.
Reserved seats for all shows are on sale now at The Farmington Players box office: 248-553-2955 or go online at www.farmingtonplayers.org. The Farmington Players also invite you to like their Facebook group page: "The Farmington Players Barn Theater."
The Barn is located at 32332 W. Twelve Mile Road, Farmington Hills, Michigan 48334. It's the big white Barn on the North side of Twelve Mile just west of Orchard Lake Rd.