Bridgewater State University
October 25, 2014
(This blog entry was written by my friend Heather for a school assignment. I have never seen Assassins, but I found her thoughts on the show to be interesting since I love Stephen Sondheim. I hope you find her comments interesting as well. Please let us know if you've seen Assassins and what you thought! --Kristin/Broadway Blogger)
I saw Assassins at Bridgewater State University, at the Rondileau Campus Center Auditorium. This is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by John Weidman. This production was directed by Colleen Rua.
Assassins is about eight individuals who have either attempted assassination on a president, or succeeded in assassinating a president. While any attempt at assassination is a serious matter, I would say the most important assassins are the ones who succeeded- namely John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Charles Guiteau’s assassination of James Garfield, and Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of John F. Kennedy.
I would like to begin by saying I had never seen this show, and had nothing to go on while watching it. I didn’t know the storyline, the music, or what the cast was supposed to look like in costume. After I saw the show, I did go back and research the characters, and looked up costumes and sets and other things, just for comparison reasons.
I would like to begin with what I thought of the set. While watching this production, I noticed there was one main set piece, which consisted of several different levels of platforms, almost like stairs, and then what I would consider the most important part of the set, a giant television screen with the American flag around it as a border. It was simple, but effective, as the television was used for certain events, such as showing President and Mrs. Lincoln sitting in the theatre. John Wilkes Booth snuck up behind them and shot President Lincoln. By far, the creepiest thing that was shown on the screen was the Proprietor coming on the screen in black and white, announcing “The President has been shot” in about one minute intervals. It achieved its desired effect, though! The acting was very well done, better than I expected it to be. I did notice a couple of missed lines, but nothing that was too terrible. I did, however, find that actor Zach Boulay, who played Guiseppe Zangara, needed to work a bit on his Italian accent. I thought he was Russian at first. I enjoyed listening to their voices; I thought the singing was absolutely wonderful, and on pitch. I also thought the dancing was done well, there were a couple of times the actors stumbled a little, but they recovered nicely and it wasn’t that noticeable. While I thought the cast handled singing the score and danced the choreography well, I would like to also mention that I didn’t particularly like the score. I found the music to be unmemorable. It was not something I ran out of the theatre humming, or anything I would want to download through Amazon or iTunes. The costumes chosen for the cast were fitting, they were appropriate for the decades each assassin was in. I liked that John Wilkes Booth’s outfit looked like it was from the 1800’s, and Lee Harvey Oswald looked like a young man from Texas in the 1960’s. When I went back and researched the characters, I also noticed that Samuel Byck’s character was spot-on with the Santa suit, which the real Samuel Byck did wear in a protest. All the principal cast looked as close to the real assassin as possible. Little details, such as Charles Guiteau’s goatee, were impeccable. The makeup that the cast wore blended well, it looked like they weren’t wearing anything, which is good as they were depicting real people and didn’t need much makeup. The Proprietor’s makeup was eerie, with dark circles under his eyes, and paler-looking skin than the other characters, which suggested that he was almost immortal, there to be the “bad angel on the characters’ shoulders” in a way.
The theme of the show was to portray assassins, from various decades and centuries, who have tried to kill presidents. In my opinion, I don’t think I would have made a show revolving around this theme. I don’t think it is appropriate to glorify criminals in any way. Overall, I felt the show as a whole was weak. I was not interested in the subject matter, because I didn’t know that everyone was an actual person who had lived and tried to assassinate presidents. I don’t feel the show portrayed that well. I honestly thought the show was a focus on John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, and just created other people as filler. I had never been taught about any of the other assassins, not in school, and certainly not in the show. I feel as though the show expected you to just know who everyone was. There wasn’t really an introduction to the characters, the opening number was at a carnival and people “trying their luck to win a prize.” If the opening number had solidified who each person was, maybe the show would have made more sense. The show as a whole seemed like random people unhappy in life, so their solution was to kill a president. I would say the most powerful moment in the show was what I would consider the “eleven o’clock number,” The Ballad of Guiteau. That was the most entertaining scene to me; I loved the dancing and the portrayal of Guiteau’s character. The actor, Michael Bradley, did a great job, and stole the show whenever he was on the stage. He kept my attention. I actually enjoyed the opening number as well, for the energy. It didn’t explain who the characters were, but the song and setting felt fun, like you were actually at a carnival. The weakest moment is not easy for me to choose, as I thought the whole show lacked. I would say the absolute weakest problem with the show is the lack of continuity. It starts with the assassination of President Lincoln, but then jumps up several decades to a more modern setting and the attempt on President Roosevelt, and keeps going back and forth like that. I think that the show would have done better to go in sequential order, with more emphasis on who each character was. Anyone can identify John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, but everyone else was undefined. In the case of Lynette Fromme, she was identifiable because of her obsession with Charles Manson, but you had to KNOW who Charles Manson was, first of all, and a bit about his biography.
The message of the show is to have people understand the severity of national tragedies. The assassination of a president is a major event that will leave the country in turmoil, whether you like the president or not. According to the director’s note, the show is supposed to seek an answer to the unanswerable question, “why”? I don’t feel that it really answers any questions; it still looks to me as though, you have a problem, why not kill a president? In the case of Guiseppe Zangara, his character is introduced to us as having a belly ache. John Wilkes Booth, who had died in a previous scene, pops back up, and is asking Zangara what he has done to make his belly feel better. Zangara cites multiple things he has done, and none of them culminate in any relief. Booth then tells him a variation of, “you know what would make you feel better? Why not kill the president?” Zangara then proceeds to go and try to do just that, unsuccessfully. Also according to the director’s note, “Assassins demands that we reevaluate and revise the American Dream.” The show wants you to see how the world would be if everyone was entitled to do what they wanted. But it’s NOT everyone. It is a select handful of people who believed they would change the world or live in infamy by killing the president. I don’t believe that most people would decide to assassinate a president. These people had formed ideals in their heads, really, 8 isolated incidents. In this day and age, I honestly think a show about assassination is a bad idea. It is too easy to obtain a gun, and many people are easily mislead and influenced. The power of suggestion is a powerful thing.
I see a lot of theatre productions, and I like about 98% of what I see. I see many productions without reading reviews or doing any research, so that my mind isn’t predisposed one way or another. I didn’t enjoy this show. I found myself looking at my watch a lot, so I wasn’t engaged in the story. This is probably because, to me, there wasn’t much of a story. I found it very confusing, to the point that I researched the show and characters afterward. When I researched the show, I learned and understood each character, what they did, where they came from, and how it related to the show. It would have been helpful in this case to have researched the show before I had seen it. Additionally, I found that it was on Broadway ten years ago with a star-filled cast, and only ran under four months. This show, in my opinion, could have had a much longer life if it had been done differently, either approached as a strict comedy, or as a strict drama, instead of trying to be a historical musical with comedy interspersed. Something in the style of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson would have been much better, with a solid, historical storyline, and songs that stuck in your head long after you left the production.