Assassins is one of Sondheim’s rarely produced musicals, and I was thrilled when I learned that the Eagle Theatre was doing the show this season. The current production does not disappoint at the Eagle Theatre, it is dark and edgy, and it makes the audience contemplate this provocative musical. The show’s basic plot is this: it is a musical about a number of the men and women who attempted to assassinate the President of the United States. However, the show is so much more than that. Assassins is a show that not only tells the story of the people who tried to assassinate the President of the United States, but it is also thought provoking. Audiences will see Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme sing about her love for Charles Manson, Charles Guiteau sing and dance to his execution, and John Wilkes Booth expound his reasons for killing Lincoln in song. The show is edgy, it starts a conversation, and it is highly entertaining. The production at the Eagle Theatre, under the direction of Ted Wioncek III, is an excellent show with a strong and commanding cast.
The music and lyrics for Assassins was written by Stephen Sondheim, and John Weidman wrote the book. The show opened off-Broadway in 1990, and the revival opened on Broadway in 2004. The revival of Assassins had a cast starring Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Cerveris, and Dennis O’Hare. The show also won five Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Director.
The production of Assassins at the Eagle manages to achieve a balance of edginess and an examination of the American dream from a skewed viewpoint, which is not always easy to do. From the moment that the audience members walk into the theatre, it as if they are walking into a carnival with sights and sounds reminiscent of this surrounding them in the theatre. This carnivalesque theme continues throughout the musical in ways such as the demeanor and dress of the character of the Proprietor (Tim Rinehart), and the symbolism of a shooting gallery. The cast of this show, appear to have a firm grasp of their characters, the time that was spent on research by individual actors comes through in their stellar performances. Tim Rinehart plays the Proprietor, and gives a sense of foreboding and eeriness to the show. Rinehart gives this character an aura of complexity and cynicism. John Wilkes Booth is perfectly portrayed by Jeffrey Coon. Coon gives a passionate performance as this infamous assassin, and this is one of my favorite roles that I have seen Coon play over the years. He is intense and brings forth Booth’s steadfast conviction. Adam Hoyak portrays the Balladeer, who is a narrator for the show. Hoyak is magnificent and brings forth a kind of innocence to this role. There is a scene between Hoyak and Coon, “Scene 16,” which is one of the best scenes in the show. These two fine actors bring out the emotion and intensity of their characters, which makes this the most powerful scene in the production. In addition, the scenes between Victoria Healy who plays Sara Jane Moore and Samantha Morrone who plays Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme add levity to the show. The banter between these two is fantastic, and Healy has the audience laughing while portraying the scatterbrained Moore, and Morrone is wonderfully animated as Fromme. David C. Yashin portrays Samuel Byck, and he has this ability to smoothly transition from humor to anger in the show. Justin Mazzella’s performance as Leon Czolgosz is brilliant as he successfully portrays the conflicted and mild-mannered Czolgosz. Will Connell gives an outstanding performance as John Hinkley. There is an honesty about Connell’s performance through which he depicts Hinckley’s fervent adoration for Jodie Foster, and how it evolves into obsession. Paul Weagraff plays Charles Guiteau. Weagraff brings out the zealousness of this character, as he consistently brings to light the self-promotional and self-deluded careerism of this historical figure. Rounding out this exceptional cast is Sean Elias as Guiseppe Zangara. Elias flawlessly expresses the sternness of the character, and has an invigorating presence.
The artistic crew also needs mentioning for Assassins. The Musical Director is Jason Neri. The Light Designer/Production Designer is Chris Miller. Chris Miller and Ted Wioncek III are the Set Designers who designed the incredible set. David Pierron is the Sound Designer. In addition, Sean Quinn is the costume designer who is responsible for creating the costumes, and each costume is lovingly detailed to reflect its unique time period.
Assassins runs at the Eagle Theatre through February 21, 2016. For more information and tickets visit their website at theeagletheatre.com or call the box office at 609-704-5012.
Photo Credit: Chris Miller
Final Thought: Assassins at the Eagle Theatre is a strong production with an incredible cast. It is show that has thought-provoking dialogue and a sensational score. If you have never seen Sondheim’s Assassins I recommend finding time to see this production at the Eagle Theatre.
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online site broadwayworld.com. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.