BWW Review: ASSASSINS at Princeton Summer Theater Captivates!
Princeton Summer Theater opened its 2016 season with ASSASSINS, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's perennially controversial and timely musical that gives a gun and a song to some of our country's most notorious characters: John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and John Hinckley, to name a few. Deftly directed by Tatiana Pandiani and performed by a well-cast and talented ensemble, the production goes a long way towards answering the question this show always seems to provoke: Why watch a musical about the people who killed, or tried to kill, presidents of the United States of America?
I grew up listening to the 1990 Off-Broadway cast recording featuring Victor Garber and Terrance Mann, and caught the 2004 revival on Broadway with Neil Patrick Harris. But the PST production, staged in the intimate Hamilton Murray Theater on Princeton's campus, with smart choreography (Iñaki Baldassarre) and creative lighting design (Alex Mannix), struck me as particularly powerful in an era when mass shootings of every day citizens, and not heads of state, have become the defining tragedy of a generation.
The production gets to the point with full commitment. There is Sondheim's dark wit and a directorial awareness of the humor inherent in desperation (and musical theater) but then, thankfully, a thread of loss, disconnection, outrage, and at times, mental instability, running through this cast of characters, making this production relevant to viewers not only in the context of the musical's original focus, but in the world in which we have found ourselves living today.
PST artistic director, Ogemdi Ude, writes that the 2016 season's theme is "The Other" with an eye to looking at "new facets of once familiar stories and characters." ASSASSINS is followed by Yasmina Reza's black comedy GOD OF CARNAGE, Tom Stoppard's tragicomedy ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, and Sam Shepard's drama FOOL FOR LOVE.
ASSISSINS is performed without an intermission, giving the audience an intimate, engaging and relentless 90 minutes in the company of a cast of actors that quickly wins your heart, even as their characters tread into misguided and anguished ambitions. Catch this show before it closes June 26, and look for more Princeton Summer Theater productions through August 14th. Professional summer stock with a Princeton pedigree does not disappoint.
Featuring Ryan Gedrich as Leon Czolgosz, Chris Beard as John Hinckley, Esteban Godoy as Charles Guiteau, David Drew as Samuel Byck, Aksel Tang as Giuseppe Zangara, Lily Davis as Lynette ("Squeaky") Fromme, Maeve Brady as Sara Jane Moore, Maddie Meyers as Emma Goldman/Ensemble, Billy Cohen as John Wilkes Booth, Jared Hopper as the Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald, Jake McCready as the Proprietor, Paloma Munoz as Ensemble
Tickets are $29.50 for general admission, $24.50 for students and matinees. Season subscriptions are only $79 (a 30% discount), which ensures a reserved seat for each of our four main stage shows this season. Subscriptions are available until Sunday, June 26th. To order tickets, visit http://www.princetonsummertheater.org/tickets or call the PST box office at 1-732-997-0205.
Photo credit: Ogemdi Ude