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Musicals That Said So Much: Assassins

Musicals That Said So Much: Assassins

Since COVID the only song that has been in my head has been “Everybody Says Don’t ” from Anyone Can Whistle. The other night I saw a concert version of the musical Parade and I knew I needed to do a series of shows that were just too ahead of their time. These shows told a truth or truths that the world was not ready to accept. Our first of the series was  Anyone Can Whistle, then Leap of Faith.

Assassins had music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by John Weidman, based on an original concept by Charles Gilbert Jr.

Assassins opens in a fairground shooting gallery where, Leon Czolgosz, John Hinckley, Charles Guiteau, Giuseppe Zangara, Samuel Byck, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, and Sara Jane Moore are given their guns one by one. John Wilkes Booth enters last as a shot rings out.

Alexander Gemignani, Becky Ann Baker, Jeffrey Kuhn, Michael Cerveris, Neil Patrick Harris, Mario Cantone, Mary Catherine Garrison, Denis O’Hare, and James Barbour starred in the 2004 Broadway production of Assassins.
(© Joan Marcus)

Booth, with a broken leg, is attempting to write his reasons for killing Lincoln in his diary, but cannot hold the pen. He blames Lincoln for the Civil War and for destroying the South. Booth throws the Balladeer his diary so that he can tell his story to the world. The Balladeer reads out Booth’s justifications, and Booth laments that the act for which he has given up his life will not be enough to heal the country.

James Barbour (top) and Neil Patrick Harris in Assassins Photo by Joan Marcus

Guiteau toasts to the Presidency of the United States, speaking of his ambition to become Ambassador to France. Hinckley accidentally breaks a bottle, and Czolgosz flies into a rage, describing the horrors he sees in the bottle factory he works in and how many men die or are injured just to make a bottle like the one Hinckley has just broken. Guiteau jokingly tells Czolgosz to find another job, and the two begin to argue about the American Dream, with Guiteau defending America and Czolgosz dismissing the “land of opportunity” as a lie. Czolgosz becomes enraged and grabs a bottle, barely stopping himself from throwing it across the room. Booth urges Czolgosz to take control of his fate by shooting Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Assassins New York City Center Cast & Credits Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim Book by John Weidman Assassins is based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr. Choreography by Lorin Latarro Music Director Chris Fenwick Directed by Anne Kauffman Starring Damian Baldet, Steven Boyer, Alex Brightman, Victoria Clark, John Ellison Conlee, Clifton Duncan, Andrew Durand, Shuler Hensley, Ethan Lipton, Hudson Loverro, Erin Markey, Steven Pasquale, Cory Michael Smith, Pearl Sun, and Danny Wolohan

Zangara’s failed attempt to assassinate Roosevelt. He missed Roosevelt and accidentally killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak instead. From an electric chair, Zangara sings his refusal to be afraid and that he hadn’t cared whom he killed as long as it was one of the men who control the money.

Emma Goldman gives a lecture as Leon Czolgosz listens, enraptured. He introduces himself to her and declares his love, but she tells him to redirect his passion to the fight for social justice. Goldman states, “They make us servants, Leon.

Patrick Cassidy and Victor Garber Assassins Cast

Czolgosz reflects on how many men die in the mines, the steel mills and the factories just to make a gun. Czolgosz decides his gun will claim one more victim: the President.

Jonathan Hadary (Charles Guiteau), Victor Garber (John Wilkes Booth) & Terrence Mann (Leon Czolgosz) in the original production of Assassins. Picture by Martha Swope (1991)

Samuel Byck sits on a park bench in a dirty Santa suit with a picket sign and a shopping bag. He talks into a tape recorder, preparing a message to Leonard Bernstein telling Bernstein he can save the world by writing more love songs, and explaining that he is going to change things by crashing a 747 into the White House and killing Richard Nixon. Then he accuses Bernstein of ignoring him. Complaining about contemporary American life, how the American public is constantly lied to, and announcing that killing him is the only solution.

The Balladeer tells the assassins that their actions didn’t solve their problems or the country’s and that if they want their prizes they must follow the American Dream. The assassins realize that they will never get their prizes, that no one will ever care if they live or die, and briefly sink into absolute desperation. The Assassins all surround the Balladeer, transforming him into Lee Harvey Oswald.

The musical opened Off-Broadway in 1990 to many mixed and negative reviews and ran for 73 performances; in 2004, the show was produced on Broadway to highly favorable notices and won five Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical.

Broadway

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

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