BWW Reviews: PRC's ASSASSINS Brings a Killer Story to Chapel Hill
Having made its debut Off-Broadway in 1990 and bowing on Broadway in 2004, Assassins is the creative musical telling of the lives of the most notorious killers of American presidents, as well as those who had varying degrees of success in their attempts at the life of a president. Now playing at PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, these bad guys include such famous names as John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, as well as less well-known names as Leon Czolgosz (assassinator of President McKinley), and those who have gone down in history for their less-than-solid relationship with reality, Squeaky Fromme among them. The show's music and lyrics were written by Stephen Sondheim, accompanied by a book by John Weidman.
With a character called the Balladeer, played by Spencer Moses, narrating and giving some tongue-in-cheek perspective, the show is everything you'd assume from a musical comedy called Assassins, and so very much more. Assassins opens with the number "Everybody's Got the Right" in which most of the characters are introduced and we begin to see their struggles and the things they're fighting for. The assassins grapple with the simple and sheer power of weapons (particularly beautifully in the simply titled number "Gun Song"), struggle with their personal lives, and ultimately all decide that the only way out of their problems is to kill the president. Whether they're trying to impress Jodie Foster, believe that their cult-leader boyfriend is the son of God, or want to make a point for the working man, they all have their reasons.
Though the protagonist assassins (and would-be assassins) are certainly not painted with the good-guy brush, they are presented in a way that exposes their humanity, which is eerily similar to our own. Audience members will find themselves uncomfortably unsure about who to root for, and will likely shudder at moments of connection with the characters. From those who have quite clearly lost their marbles (I'm looking at you, Hinckley) to those whose struggles are a little more universal (like Czolgosz, who worked in a dead-end job his whole life and wanted to fight for his piece of the American dream), the argument is compelling that there isn't actually all that much that separates rogue killers from regular people. No matter how ill-placed their blame or how terrible the outcome, or even how disconnected from reality they are, their pain is real.
The production quality is extremely high, with good singers, great scenic design by Rachel Hauck, and innovative direction by Mike Donahue. It's a piece that will remain in audience's mind well after the final bows, and it's the kind of theater that does what theater is supposed to do: entertain and make you think.
Assassins runs through April 20. For tickets and more information, visit www.playmakersrep.org.