Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” is an exploration of the American Dream, and what happens when it fails to be achieved. It explores a group of people who have attempted, and in some cases succeeded, to assassinate various Presidents of the United States. Learning and understanding their motives places us placed in a position of empathy, considering what we too would be willing to kill for, and how easy it can be to get carried away into carrying out such an act. It is a particularly topical piece at the moment, in a time where gun crime in America is rife, and with the exception of Lyndon Johnson, every President’s life since JFK has been threatened with assassination.
Music Theatre Society have made the bold choice to produce “Assassins” in the union’s nightclub Stylus, an inevitably difficult space to work with, but it has worked to their advantage, and it was refreshing to see such a different arena used in this way. The set was patriotic and “all-American” in style, reflecting the nature of the piece, and was effective, albeit slightly predictable.
There were some instances of extremely clever choreographed movement, particularly the electrification of Guiseppe Zangara, played by William Purcell, which was equally haunting and confronting, whilst succeeding in remaining understated. Some of the scenes felt more comfortable than others, with some slightly lacking in an understanding of intention of movement, with characters moving without definite purpose.
The band was positioned on the balcony behind the audience, which worked extremely well, but they were amplified far too much through speakers at the front, meaning that the audience were encased with sound, and struggled to decipher the speech of the characters onstage. With many other productions this wouldn’t have been such a problem, but Sondheim’s work is so wonderfully witty and verbose that the power comes through the nuances of the phrases; something that was lost through the lack of balance in sound. However, generally the cast were strong in their delivery of particularly challenging music.
The band’s performance, led by Musical Director Tom Bond, wavered throughout. There were moments of really beautiful, delicate playing, particularly by Jake Pople on Clarinet, who incidentally was also Co-Musical Director for the show. However, there were equally as many moments of discomfort, as a result of several obviously wrong notes, which unfortunately detracted from the performance onstage.
The relationship between the assassins of President Gerald Ford, played by Daisy Crossley and Rhianne Hicks, was standout. Crossley in particular had absolutely brilliant stage presence and fantastic comic timing. Her lines were hilariously written and her delivery completely did the writing justice. She is definitely one to watch in the theatre scene at LUU, and it is exciting to see first years like her entering the societies and providing a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Notable also was Joshua Wren, playing John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Lincoln. He understood the complexities of the character extremely well, and gave not only a stellar acting performance, but had a wonderful singing tone, with a beautiful upper register.
Overall, MT have given us a commendable rendition of an exceptionally complex musical, and despite some occasional lapses, it was a thoroughly enjoyable piece.
Image: Rob Palin