Book by John Weidman
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Kelly Roberts and Grant Pegg
Musical director: Alexander Unikowski
Everyman Theatre production
Belconnen Theatre to 21 September
Reviewed by Len Power 7 September 2019
The production of a Sondheim musical in Canberra is always something to celebrate. ‘Assassins’ is a good choice for Everyman Theatre, with their reputation for staging important and challenging shows.
First produced off-Broadway in 1990, ‘Assassins’ is a nightmarish exploration of several infamous assassins and attempted assassins of United States presidents. As if the subject matter isn’t uncomfortable enough, John Weidman’s book and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics are full of dark humour, giving the show an extra edginess. Sondheim’s music employs traditional and recognizable musical forms from the periods relating to each assassin. It’s a challenge for both orchestra and singers to perform accurately.
Co-directors Kelly Roberts and Grant Pegg have achieved a fine depth of characterization from their strong cast of performers. Essentially an ensemble piece, every actor gets their moment to shine. Particularly memorable was Pippin Carroll as The Balladeer with his fine voice and confident stage presence.
Jim Adamik was absolutely chilling as the attempted 1974 plane hijacker and assassin, Samuel Byck. Will Collett brought a realistically quiet danger to his performance of John Hinkley Junior and Belle Nicol superbly captured a hippy-type sensibility as Charles Manson follower, Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme. Isaac Gordon, Jarrad West, Tracy Noble, Jonathan Rush and Joel Hutchings also gave finely drawn portraits of their deluded and ultimately pathetic characters.
The entire cast met the challenge of singing this tricky score. The small band, conducted by Alexander Unikowski, played the score extremely well, sounding like a much larger orchestra than they were. Unfortunately sound balances were often a problem, especially in the group patter song, ‘How I Saved Roosevelt’ where the lyrics could not be heard clearly and Joel Hutchings was amplified much too high throughout the show compared to other cast members.
The stripped bare carnival setting, designed by Christopher Zuber, works fine but a bit of garish colour could have added some more interest and atmosphere. Not all of the assassins are historically well-known, so having the characters easily identified with wooden boxes stamped with their names was a great conceptual idea.
This is a fine production of a unique musical that puts extraordinary demands on the performers and musicians. Everyone concerned with this production has earned the right to be happy.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.