Presented by New Repertory Theatre
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr.
Directed by Jim Petosa
Musical direction by Matthew Stern
Choreography by Judith Chaffee
Please note: there is no intermission for this 2 hour musical.
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Watertown, MA) Society likes to label people who commit atrociously violent acts, Monsters. It is deeply important that we, the good folk of society, acknowledge that the Monsters who murder, harm, victimize, etc. aren’t depraved beasts transformed by mental illness into inhuman criminals. These Monsters are people who do monstrous things. So, if these Monsters are human just as we are human, then it follows that we must accept the possibility that we too are capable of monstrous acts.
In this musical headlined by Stephen Sondheim with a book by John Weidman, Assassins invites the audience to view the humanity of men and women who murdered or came close murdering United States Presidents. Assassins sets a variety of characters in the same imaginary, American flag wasteland (set design by Kamilla Kurmanbekova) to tell their stories to each other and the audience. They are quirky, friendly, frequently normal appearing folk with a common mission but differing reasons for completing it. We see them struggle with universal themes of happiness and dream fulfillment. If not for their desire to kill the President, they could be average, ordinary people. A Proprietor (Benjamin Evett) representing chaos and destruction rallies them towards their goal.
This musical vacillates between comedy and drama to drop securely in the dramatic spotlight by the show’s end. Murder is a serious subject but people, and this show is about people, can be funny even if they are capable of murder. The cast give a good performance; the actors are charismatic even if their characters aren’t. They put the fun in this dysfunctional family of misfits. The vocals were pitchy at the beginning of the performance but evened out as the afternoon progressed. The orchestra led by Matthew Stern held steady as the actors found their footing. They had a slow start but the cast was flush with vigor by the end.
The choreography by Judith Chaffee suits this cast of actors who move. It’s effectively snappy yet simple enough to accommodate Sondheim’s frequently operatic music. The staging by Jim Petosa keeps the eye moving even when the pacing lagged between numbers.
To be clear: this musical is about attempts and assassinations of Presidents. There are fake guns on stage that occasionally get pointed at the audience. Violent but not graphic deaths are enacted. Gun shots are heard but bullets are never used. The NRA says that guns don’t kill people; people kill people. In this production, people kill people by using guns. If that is something that disturbs you (and it should), perhaps you should consider whether attending this production is for you.