Broadway World UK
Stephen Sondheim'sAssassins is a fascinating exploration of the dark side of the American dream, taking as its subject nine of the men and women who have tried to kill Presidents of the United States. In this production from BB Theatre Productions, the director and cast are highly successful in getting to grips with the main challenge of the piece: creating a diverse group of characters who are sympathetic and often funny, while at the same time communicating the inherent menace and madness prevalent in their ranks.
The score is not typical of Sondheim - rather more melodic thanks to its pastiche of music from different time periods matching up to each of the assassins, and its suggestion of a carnival shooting gallery within the score enhanced by this production's design choices. Vocals are overwhelmingly faultless and performances are likewise exceptional. In particular, Niven Willett as Giuseppe Zangara commits wholeheartedly to an intense performance. Charlie Seddon as Leon Czolgosz and Jack Stark as John Hinckley both create more tender outcast figures.
As the balladeer, Charlie Booker plays the everyman commentator with a perfect mixture of wholesome innocence and cynical humour, while William Branston captures the charisma and craziness of Charles Guiteau. There is not a single weak link among the assassins, and praise must also be given to the small ensemble (Matt Cooke, Lacey Creed and Tom Daniels) who play every other part in the show between them.
Assassins is a show well suited to the Fringe, requiring little in the way of set or effects, but the intimate nature of the venue at Augustines adds an extra frisson to the performance, with intense red-eyed assassins pointing a gun only a few feet in front of your face. Indeed, those who are of a nervous or giggly disposition should avoid the front row!
Overall, this is a slick production that zips along through two centuries of American history, made even more disturbing by the rhetoric of contemporary American politics. If you enjoy darkly comic musicals, skillfully performed by a talented cast, this production will blow you away.
British Theatre Guide
There is a huge carnival sign across the back of the stage in BB Theatre’s strong production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Assassins. It reads "Shoot the President".
At a time when the leading Republican Party candidate for the Presidency said that people with guns might find a way of stopping a President Hilary Clinton introducing tighter gun control, it seems less a carnival game sign and more of a dangerous political instruction.
Sondheim’s funny, nightmarish vision of an America where so many of its Presidents have been assassinated tells its story from the point of view of the assassins. The lyrics and music reflect and develop the characters through contrasting scenes.
The factory worker Leon Czolgosz (Charlie Seddon) is shown meeting the revolutionary Emma Goldman after a political meeting where her arm was broken by the Chicago police.
It is followed by a rally for "the round and prosperous" President McKinley who greets people at a business event with the boast that anyone can reach the top in the US.
But this is a US where Leon argues, "some men have everything and some have none". The production of a gun kills hundreds before it is made—"In the mines, in the mills, at machines. Who died for what? A thing to make the bosses richer."
Each scene is linked by the sardonic commentary of the Balladeer in an extraordinarily fine performance by Charlie Booker.
In song, the character argues that the assassins may have "shed a little blood and stirred a little mud. But didn’t help the workers and didn’t heal the country."
It is not a message that carries much weight with the growing ranks of the dispossessed even when he breezily announces that "the mailman just won the lottery".
Driving him from the stage they urge us to spread the word that there is "another national anthem" of those who no longer believe in the system.
This is a fluent, musically confident production with a chilling performance from Ian Stark as Sam Byck. There are also particularly thoughtful, amusing performances from Becky Silverstein as Sarah Jane Moore and Lucy Smith as Lynette Fromme, the women who tried to kill Gerald Ford.
This is a very entertaining show about the inequality of the American system and the dangerous violence it generates.
This is a searing, angry, powerful but strangely redemptive show, beautifully cast, with something very relevant to say about the little man (and woman), the gun, and the cult of celebrity. A terrific ensemble piece, it would be unjust to single out any one of the fine performances for specific praise. The show builds slowly and carefully, its parade of misfits and malcontents impressing first with their own stories, and then as a collective of passionate but misguided citizens bringing Sondheim's edgy but harmonious score to brilliant life. Yes, go and see it. Twice.
Kara Taylor Alberts
Shows are often revived and revived around this time of year as the Edinburgh Fringe looms. Assassins is not one of them.
Not only is the show one of Sondheim’s lesser known pieces, it is a difficult beast to tame, and with a small cast and a six piece band, TJ Lloyd’s production did more than just tame it.
It should be said, as the show has so many parts that could be considered leads, it is impossible to mention them all, however it is rare you see a cast as solid as this one. Every member of the company,( in particular the ten leads) shine and have a strong grasp on their characters, which makes it almost impossible to slip out of the world of the show.
It often occurs there is one member of the cast that constantly catches your eye and in this show it was Dan Stark. As soon as he walked on, you felt his presence on stage and then this was backed up with his captivating portrayal of Leon Czolgosz. He particularly shone in “Gun Song”, one of my favourite numbers, supported by equally fantastic cast members Becky Silverstein (Sarah Jane Moore), Matthew Harcourt (John Wilkes Booth) and William Branston (Charles Guitaeu). The quartet gave me goosebumps and was a perfect example of how when Sondheim is done right, there is nothing better.
Another particularly special moment was “Unworthy of Your Love”. Lucy Smith (Lynette Fromme) and Jack Stark (John Hinckley) took full advantage of the intamicy of the song (one of the most beautiful love songs ever written in my opinion) and yet still utilised the uncomfortable context to further the depth of their characters. It was a truly beautiful moment in the show, and came at a vital time, as it gave the show the energy to push through to the end with attack and vigour.
The show was not just beautifully executed, respecting the fantastic piece of art Sondheim and John Weidman created, but a truly special interpretation directed fantastically by TJ Lloyd, with a wonderful band led by Bridget Biggar. With a cast full of young actors with bright futures ahead of them, if you are heading up to the fringe this month don’t miss the opportunity to see something very special.
With all the current american presidential election hype and controversy why not relieve some of that pent up anguish and watch a delightfully entertaining production of 'Assassins'! It's a musical about the various characters who assassinated different presidents throughout american history, colluding together in chorus to persuade Lee Harvey Oswald to kill JFK.
Becky and I went to see it on Tuesday and it was incredible, the cast are amazing and very talented. The theatre is very intimate making the show extremely immersive. This entire production was put on by my close friend Izzy's mother, Bridget Biggar, whom I must congratulate for putting together such a stellar production in a short space of time.
Bridget has taken pretty much the same troop for these Edinburgh festival performances so please take a friend and go see it, you won't be disappointed!!