BWW Review: ASSASSINS at Little Theatre Of Mechanicsburg
Anyone who has undertaken a show by Stephen Sondheim knows that the music is seriously difficult, often including dissonant cords, tricky intervals, and overlapping lines. Assassins is no exception. Written by John Weidman and Sondheim, it was first produced at Playwrights Horizons in 1990 and hit Broadway in 2004. It was originally scheduled to play on Broadway in 2001, but was postponed due to the events of September 11, 2001. The story of those who assassinated or attempted to assassinate various Presidents throughout US history, Assassins combines quirky characters such as the Proprietor and Balladeer with historical characters such as Emma Goldman and John Wilkes Booth. It covers complex themes ranging from broken dreams to corruption to classism with dark humor. The show approaches these themes and the overarching theme of disillusionment with the American dream in a way that may make audiences feel uncomfortable as they are confronted with truths that are all too real about our country, our history, and human nature. Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg takes on Assassins now through November 3rd.
The show opens at a shooting gallery where customers are invited to take a shot at a President. This sets the stage for meeting the assassins and hearing of their complaints, desires, and schemes. Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg's set is simple, which allows the audience to focus on the characters, lyrics, and dialogue. The costumes, by Linda-Louise Bush and Meredith Hensel deserve a special mention-they paid close attention to the era each of the characters portray as well as their economic status. Having the various time periods visually represented on stage through their costumes really drives home the idea that many of the themes in the show cross decades and class.
Overall, the cast does an admirable job with a difficult show. While there were some pitch issues on opening night, particularly on songs in which more than two characters were singing, the strength of the acting and the quality of the voices made up for it. I also greatly appreciated their diction-even on fast songs, every word can be understood.
Nancy Meister, as Sara Jane Moore, and Reagan Newbury, as Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme have wonderful comedic timing in their scenes together. Meister, with her large handbag and lipstick, plays up Sara Jane Moore's image as a mother of four who turns to radical politics. Newbury is fun to watch as Charles Manson follower Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme. Her posture and body language illustrate Fromme's drug addiction and depression well.
John Hinckley, who was responsible for the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, is played by Erik Dulick (who also appears as President Gerald Ford). Dulick plays a pathetic Hinckley and a clueless Ford. He particularly shines in his scene with Newbury's Fromme. Dulick and Newbury have wonderful harmonies on their duet "Unworthy of Your Love."
The man who attempted to assassinate FDR, Italian immigrant Giuseppe Zangara, is portrayed by Aaron Booth. Booth also appears as David Herold, John Wilkes Booth's accomplice in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Booth is able to maintain his Italian accent even through his song "How I Saved Roosevelt". The most notable aspect of his performance, is his ability to make the audience feel his pain as he clutches his stomach and explains that he has tried every remedy he can think of to rid himself of the pain.
Brandon Rexrode takes on the role of Charles Guiteau. Guiteau-lawyer, writer, and assassin of President Garfield-is a larger-than-life character, and Rexrode plays the role with appropriate gusto. His best scene, interestingly, is the one in which Guiteau is hanged. Guiteau's religious background is illustrated through the song "The Ballad of Guiteau", and Rexrode's beatific expression as he sings the song with the Balladeer is just perfect.
Sarah Allwein, who portrays the Proprietor, has wonderful stage presence and a lovely, clear tone. Her facial expressions and gestures are intentionally crafted to suit her character, as she encourages the assassins to solve their problems by shooting Presidents. Her interactions on stage with Ben Chadwell's John Wilkes Booth and Michael D. Griesemer's Balladeer are energetic and keep the storyline moving.
Political activist Emma Goldman is played by Denise Carman. Carman's intensity and poise gives the character a sense of gravitas that is well-suited to the role. Her duet with Czolgosz (played by Dan Bixler) in "The Gun Song" is gorgeous-one of my favorite musical moments of the performance.
Dan Bixler's performance as Leon Czolgosz and Samuel Byck is fantastic. Bixler skillfully differentiates his two characters, giving them different posture, facial expressions, and body language. His singing voice is smooth and resonant, and his pitch is right on. Bixler has mastered Byck's monologues, keeping the audience's attention through his solo time on stage.
The role of Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, is taken on by Ben Chadwell. Chadwell has a soulful sound that is showcased beautifully in "The Ballad of Booth". He particularly shines in his final scenes where John Wilkes Booth is shown fervently encouraging Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot President John F. Kennedy.
This ensemble show is rounded out by Michael D. Griesemer in the roles of the Balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald. His performance was one of the strongest on opening night. He has a great voice that is adaptable for different types of music. Griesemer shows off his acting talent when he transforms from one character into the other. The way he accomplishes this is astounding to watch and is something audiences need to experience for themselves.
The final songs and scenes of the show are spectacular, heightening the energy and tension of the performance. It is well worth your time to see Assassins at Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg, so visit www.ltmpa.com to get your tickets today!