August 02, 2006

Don't shoot the messenger

This past weekend, ScottE and I had the opportunity to see Signature Theatre's production of Assassins. I was looking forward to this, as I'd seen the 2004 Broadway production at Studio 54. Considering their slamdunk last year with Urinetown, I hoped Signature could do it again.

Quite simply, they did it again.

Under Joe Calarco's superb direction, Signature made the most of this unusual musical in their intimate space. I won't spoil the set-up in case any of you are still going to see it, but let's just say he drove home the idea that these assassins are not some bizarre people from another planet - they are everyman, they are us.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Sondheim wrote this musical back in 1991. It imagines a hypothetical place where the nine people in America who have attempted to assassinate the President come together and interact. He explores their motivations, their reasons and their humanity (or lack of, you might argue). It is really half-play, half-musical, as there are some longer sections of just dialogue, and only 9 songs. The action reaches a crescendo as these characters converge to implore Lee Harvey Oswald to be the man that shoots President Kennedy.

If it sounds odd, it is. And often uncomfortable. I mean, sure, you KNOW the guns they're holding are fake, but you still squirm a bit in your seat when they aim them right at you! Still, it's a remarkable piece of theater.

In many ways this production surpassed the Broadway version. I much preferred Will Gartshore as John Wilkes Booth, Tally Sessions as Leon Czolgosz, Andy Brownstein as Samuel Byck and Donna Migliaccio as Sara Jane Moore. Also the intimacy of the space lends itself well to such a personal work.

But on the flipside there were things in Broadway I liked better. The set there was truly spectacular - made up like a carnival shooting gallery beneath a roller coaster. And Neil Patrick Harris really shone as Oswald.

All in all, a tremendous show. We've signed up as subscribers to the coming season at Signature, and I look forward to seeing what they do with My Fair Lady and Into the Woods!


ScottE. said...

I had only heard the music from the show once...well over ten years ago, so going into this show, I had no idea really what to expect.

This really was exceptional! Way to go Signature. I LOVED the set. And I thought the cast was remarkable. Two scenes actually made me catch my breath. And one of the final scenes had me holding back tears...out of stress and fear and "what if." It was really intense and frankly, that's what I love the most in theatre! If you can go...go! I would go again!

Stef said...

I've never been to Signature Theatre, but it sounds like I definitely need to check it out! I remember seeing performances from Assassins on the Tonys a few years ago and it looked really good.

Stef said...

Wait - I just looked at their season. You're going to see a show with book and lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford?!?!

Faster, faster, Cody wants a pony! :-)