Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Directed by Billy Pacholski
Musical direction by Robert Ollis
Produced by Billy Pacholski
At the Viaduct Theatre, Chicago
Interesting production values and some excellent voices give Sondheim’s weird musical some heart
I’ve never been a fan huge of the musical, Assassins. I think it is a troubled work that indirectly pays homage to the creeps who delve in assassins of American Presidents. I feel that it is in quite bad taste to “sing” about killers assassinating Presidents.In telling the story of those alienated loners whose warped sense allowed them to commit murder, Sondheim and book writer John Weidman mix humor into the story of each assassin. I simply don’t see the need for a musical about such a topic. Let me add that many of the warped souls at the opening night performance found much to laugh at in this tasteless musical. How anyone can laugh when guns are fired or when a character kills a President is one of life’s mysteries? I guess they’d laugh when witnessing a car crash?
That being said, Billy Pacholski has mounted a workable production of Stephen Sondheim’s strange musical. The video (by Frank Mares) underscored the events presented nicely and the general tone of the work went for presented the assassins as ‘real people- just like us according to producer/director Billy Pacholski’s production notes. But since these dysfunctional folks were a mixture of insane and demented losers, any attempt to show them as ‘regular’ folks failed from the outset.
Assassins explores the history and fascination demented Americans have with their Presidents. From John Wilkes Booth (the terrific Kevin Webb) to Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald (the golden voiced, charismatic Sam Button-Harrison) to Sara Jane Moore (the funny Libby Laney) to crazies like Leon Czolgosz (Aram Monisoff), among other assassins, we are entangled in a weird American attraction with violence toward our elected leaders. Sondheim gives the nine assassins a voice in song to vent their psychosis. His music ranges from folk to ragtime to 1970’s soft pop/rock.
The sings was adequate, yet Sam Button-Harrison as the Balladeer smoothly warbled his folksy tunes, especially his ballads.. Nick Druzbanski, as the crazy Samuel Byck and Libby Lane as Sara Jane Moore were hilarious in their wacky ways. Ed Rutherford exhibited his melodic voice as John Hinckley, Jr. Kevin Webb’s singing and eerie take on John Wilkes Booth underscored the creepy characters contained here.
Director Billy Pachalski’s scene changes were clumsy slowing the show’s pace. The orchestra was fine except for a few sour brass notes and the cast effectively could be heard despite not being amplifies. For fans of Assassins (and loyal Sondheim followers) will find much to enjoy in this production.I found the production stage worthy. The cast was far better than the material.I only wonder why the ticket price is a hefty $45 since this is a non-Equity production?
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: October 12, 2012
For more info checkout the Assassins page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Viaduct Theatre, 3122 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL, call 312-212-3470, tickets $45, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 7pm, special Tuesday performance on November 6 at 7:30 pm, running time is 1 hour, 45 minutes without intermission, through November 10, 2012