BWW Interview: ASSASSINS director Peter Rothstein takes aim with Latte Da's latest production

BWW Interview: ASSASSINS director Peter Rothstein takes aim with Latte Da's latest production

Director Peter Rothstein and Theater Latte Da have earned a reputation of excellence over the 20 years the theater has existed. ASSASSINS is another production that lives up to expectations, and even exceeds them. I had the opportunity to ask Rothstein 6 Questions and provide a plug as usual, but I had more questions and packed a lot into them. Rothstein, however, in his brevity and thoughtful responses, edited them down to the essence. Learn a little about the director's thoughts about doing this show at this time, with great intention; and then reserve your seat before you miss the chance.

This is your sixth Latte Da Stephen Sondheim production. What is it about Sondheim that draws you back to his shows time and again? What is your favorite aspect of working on one of his musicals?

Stephen Sondheim has revolutionized the American Musical in terms of both content and form. He has spoken about his work in terms of a puzzle and his affinity for puzzles. Working on a Sondheim show is like engaging with a brilliant, beautiful puzzle: it's challenging, inspiring and addicting.

You mention in the program notes that you intentionally chose to produce this musical at this time because of the volatile discourse around the current administration. Did you worry at all about backlash from that? Have you had any?

I believe it is our job as artists to listen and respond to the world around us, and to help illuminate issues in our community or nation where there is darkness. I can't be an authentic artist if I fear backlash. I am truly concerned about creating work that is responsible and that is compassionate, but working from a place of fear is ultimately paralyzing.

This show was conceived originally in 1979 and didn't reach Broadway until 2004 due to bad timing with the 9/11 tragedy in 2001. Do you think it resonates more today with the years and world events that have come to pass? What lessons would you like audiences today to gather from this production?

I believe a gauge of truly great art is that it continues to resonate beyond the time and context it was created. Sadly ASSASSINS has only become more relevant as gun violence has grown more frequent. I also believe our current politicians have fed the American people disenfranchisement as an electoral tool. ASSASSINS is about individuals who believe they are disenfranchised, who believe they have been robbed of something that is rightfully theirs, that they had been promised.

While dark and mostly disturbing, this show has a lot of humor, uncomfortable as it can be. Sara Ochs, in particular, is hilarious as Sara Jane Moore. Did you plan for those moments to ease the tensions or did they come out naturally as you worked with the actors?

I think the brilliance of this musical is the emotional rollercoaster it asks its audience to ride. The rehearsal process was about maximizing the twists, turns, giggles and horrors of a really great roller coaster ride. And to create a piece of theater that continues to challenge an audience even after they have left the theater.

You have again assembled a multi-talented cast. Each member pulls his or her own weight equally well. With the wealth of talent in the area, did you choose this show with actors in mind or have to narrow down multiple choices to reach this cast? Did any of their performances surprise you? Did any of them find things in the role that you had not planned on?

This is an extraordinary team of actor/singers. There are tremendous vocal demands on each character but they also need real acting chops. The rehearsal process, hand in hand with the design process, created a production quite different than what I initially imagined when I programmed the show. That to me is the sign of a great collaboration.

You chose to put the character of Billy (or another unnamed child) in the beginning and especially at the end of the show. What was the reasoning behind this choice?

I believe this show is ultimately a cry for change. We have to be willing to look at what's broken in American culture in order to change the course of history. We have to unlock the minds and hearts of people who do horrified things if we are going to ultimately create change. The presence of the child as a bookend device is a visual cry for change.

I always end with a question about your next project. Latte Da's next show in your 20th season is a world premiere, FIVE POINTS. Can you give a little preview of this show and how you chose to add it to your season?

I am thrilled to be a part of the world premiere on FIVE POINTS. My friend and colleague Harrison David Rivers introduced me to the piece. Harrison is the book-writer and Douglas Lyons and Ethan Pakchar have created an electric score. We have been working intensely with this team of writers for the past year. It's a big show about a unique time in American history -- the Civil War, and a unique location -- the Five Points neighborhood in lower east Manhattan, but it has profound things to say about current issues surrounding race and immigration. Ultimately it is a celebration of the fusion of cultures that is the heart and soul of who we are.

ASSASSINS plays at the Ritz Theater through March 18, 2018. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.latteda.org/assassins. For Karen Bovard's review of this production, click here.

Pro tip: Be sure to arrive at the Northeast theater early to take part in the pre-show, on-stage carnival.

Photo: Peter Rothstein, director, discusses the production with the cast of ASSASSINS. Photo by: Emilee Elofson.

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