Review | Assassins: overlong maybe, but fab

Tyler Michaels and Ensemble. Photo by Dan Norman

Ever wonder why the dapper Johnny Wilkes Booth murdered Abraham Lincoln? Laid awake at night sorting out the reasons why the cheerfully insane Charles Guiteau put a bullet in President Garfield’s back? Tried to figure out why the effervescently cute Squeaky made a half-ass attempt on Gerald Ford’s life (leaving a live round on the bathroom floor. Really?). Ever wonder what motivated Lee Harvey, Guiseppe Zangara, Sara Jane Moore, John Hinkley, et al?

Well, the great composer Stephen Sondheim (and his book writer John Weidman) did and the nifty musical Assassins (Theater Latté Da, performing, as I probably don’t need to tell you, in the old Ritz, through March 18) is the result. Assassins is great fun but it has to be said that Sondheim and Weidman don’t come to any great, all-encompassing conclusion. How could they? These killers (and wanna-be killers) are all individually disturbed. To paraphrase Tolstoy: these people are screwed up in their own way.

“Move your little finger and change the world,” the authors write. “The country is not what it was.” When was it ever what it was? “We did it,” exclaims the would-be slayer of Richard Nixon, Samuel Byck, “because there’s no Santa Claus!”

As good a reason as any.

Imo, Sondheim and Weidman’s effort to answer the question – why? – contributes mightily to this show’s biggest problem: it refuses to end. Scene after scene, song after song, we’re ready to applaud and head out to our frigid cars, but Assassins won’t let (us) go.

But who cares! Let this production go on. It’s marvelous. Directed by the uber-talented Peter Rothstein, staged on an excellent set by Eli Sherlock, handsomely lit by Marcus Dilliard, nicely costumed by Alice Frederickson, sound by C. Andrew Mayer, wigs by Paul Bigot. Wonderful.

Assassins features the acting and singing stylings of musical stalwarts Benjamin Dutcher, Tyler Michaels, Shinah Brashears, Dieter Bierbauer, Sara Ochs and others too numerous to mention, all of whom do first rate work. The cast, along with the crackerjack design team, make Assassins a must-see.

The music, as is always the case with Sondheim, is intelligent, haunting, in no way grab-you-by-the-throat glitzy. The show, which premiered in 1990 and finally achieved Broadway in 2004, reminds us why Stephen Sondheim is a national treasure.


John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. Please visit John’s informational website

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