Susan, Richard, John, David, and I saw *Assassins* at City Center on 7/12/17.  Actually, it was Susan and I, and Richard, John, and David.  That might sound like an arbitrary distinction, but please allow me to explain: Susan and I bought our tickets months ago, Richard didn't think the show sounded like something interested him.  But then John and David asked if he wanted to see it, and he said yes.  So the three of them sat elsewhere.  Good thing, because Susan and I loved the show, and the three of them didn't like it very much at all!

 

It's a Sondheim musical that first played off Broadway in 1990 (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by John Weidman).  It opened at the start of the Gulf War and the producers decided it would be a flop on Broadway, so it didn't make the transfer.  It finally did play Broadway (with Neil Patrick Harris as The Balladeer and Oswald) in 2004, where it was a success and picked up a couple Tonys.  It's the story of various presidential assassins and would-be assassins (may I call them <<assassins manqué?>>), back to John Wilkes Booth.  Let me give you a guided tour:

 

John Wilkes Booth: shot and killed Abraham Lincoln, 1865.

 

Charles Guiteau: shot James Garfield in 1881, who died two months later from infection (Richard tells me it's because his doctor kept prodding at the wound and spreading the infection - - the poor guy died of sepsis, which is no one's idea of a good time).

 

Leon Czolgosz: shot and killed William McKinley, 1901.

 

Giuseppe Zangara: attempted assassination of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933.  I'd never heard of that guy or the assassination attempt.

 

Lee Harvey Oswald: shot and Killed John F. Kennedy, 1963.

 

Samuel Byck: planned to hijack an airliner and crash it into the White House to kill Richard Nixon, 1974.  Another one I'd never heard of, that guy sounds like a real wacko (also a moron).

 

Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme: attempted assassination of Gerald Ford, 1975.

 

Sara Jane Moore: attempted assassination of Gerald Ford, 1975, 17 days after Fromme's attempt.

 

John Hinckley Jr.: attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, 2001.

 

We see interactions between these people in a spooky purgatory of the imagination, a run-down diner and shooting gallery.  The score reminded me of Shostakovich and Weill, in the way that it took something disturbing and presented it in a smiling, jovial, razzle dazzle format.  The combination is unsettling, maybe even a little sickening.  I loved that, Richard didn't like it at all.  He felt like the show glorified the assassins and made them heroes: I felt showed them as misguided and pitiful.

 

The songs coexisted with the dialogue in a way I hadn't seen before - - there were long scenes of dialogue with no music, fascinating, engrossing, funny, and sometimes a song would emerge, but sometimes not.  Often the dialogue in a musical fills in the blanks between songs, but in this show the dialogue seemed to be just as important, interesting, and illuminating as the songs.

 

Two performers stood apart from the rest: Steven Pasquale was silky smooth as John Wilkes Booth, the spiritual godfather of the group.  He sang beautifully and had chilling charisma.  My favorite performance was by Victoria Clark as Sara Jane Moore, she was hilarious.  I think of her as having such a pretty voice, and she does, but I forget what a brilliant physical actor she is.  She was a riot.

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