Theatre Mirror Reviews - "ASSASSINS"

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note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The closing show of The Players 107th season is "Assassins" by Stephen Sondheim which won five Tony Awards in 2004 including Best Revival. "Assassins" lays bare the lives of the nine individuals who assassinated or attempted to assassinate the President of the United States in an historical "revuiscal" that explores the dark side of the American experience while using the premise of a murderous carnival game. From John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, Sondheim and John Weidman bend the rules of time and space, taking us on a nightmarish roller coaster ride in which assassins and would be assassins from different time periods meet, interact and in an intense final scene inspire each other to a harrowing act on their way to the American Dream. The score contains pastiches of American music through the ages from folk to rock to 1970's soft rock. Director Joan Dillenback assembles 17 talented cast members to fill these roles while musical director Stephen DeCesare taught them this intricate score and choreographer, Tom Lavallee supplies them with inventive dance moves, winning them a thunderous ovation at the close of this thought provoking musical.

Joan not only directs and blocks this show splendidly but has the cast embody these roles on many different levels. They give a multilayered performance in these roles. Stephens plays the lead keyboards and conducts a terrific 3 piece orchestra. The big dance numbers include "Another National Anthem" and "I Saved Roosevelt." The fantastic video design is by Dennis Vessella. Dennis Bouchard is the menacing Proprietor of the guns. He tries to convince everyone including the audience and assassins that it is alright to buy guns and kill presidents in "Everybody's Got the Right", the opening number. Dennis hands the weapons to the killers as he belts out this number marvelously. He also shows off his comic side when he plays Reagan and Ford. Nick Autiello plays the lead role of the Balladeer and comments on the events as they are happening. displays his strong baritone voice in "The Ballad of Booth", "I Saved Roosevelt", "The Ballad of Czolgosz", "The Ballad of Guiteau" and "Another National Anthem." Nick also plays Oswald excellently. He is unsure what to do at first but the other assassins convince him to kill John Kennedy and this is where the show takes a frightening turn. The Oswald and Booth dramatic scene is mesmerizing. Erik Ross plays John Wilkes Booth wonderfully. He is an imposing figure as the demented Booth, combined with his strong baritone voice in "The Ballad of Booth" and in "The Gun Song", definitely captures your attention. The dramatic scene with Oswald displays their strong acting prowess in these roles. Jeff C. Davis plays Giuseppe Zangara, the Italian immigrant who wanted to kill FDR but instead killed Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago. Jeff has an excellent Italian accent as Zangara. He had a bad stomach and displays his topnotch voice in "I Saved Roosevelt" with the chorus backing him as Zangara is being electrocuted.

Greg Bonin plays Leon Czolgosz, the killer of William McKinley in 1901. Leon who is one of the most intense assassins, is in love with Emma Goldman played by Rebecca Kilcline who also leads the chorus in "Something Just Broke." His dementia comes from being burnt in a chemical plant. Greg's acting prowess comes through in this dramatic role. His terrific voice is heard in "The Gun Song", "The Ballad of Czolgosz" and many group numbers. Greg sells his songs to the appreciative crowd. Charles Guiteau, the disappointed office seeker who killed James Garfield in 1881 is wonderfully played by Tom Lavallee. The character is larger than life and Tom gives him the comic edge it needs. He displays his powerful voice in the group numbers and in "The Ballad of Guiteau" with the Balladeer. It is a rousing gospel number which brings the house down. Luke Sullivan plays the nerdy, psychopath John Hinckley who tried to kill Reagan in 1981. Hinckley's obsession with Jodie Foster comes through in his song "Unworthy of Your Love" with Squeaky. Luke is topnotch in this role.

The three biggest scene stealers in this show are Elizabeth Messier, Stephanie Post and Michael Pugliese. Elizabeth plays the clumsy, spastic Sara Jane Moore who tried to kill Gerald Ford in 1975 as did Squeaky Fromme played by Stephanie. Elizabeth as Sarah keeps shooting at a bucket of KFC for target practice, says shit every time she misses and when she tries to kill Ford, she keeps dropping the bullets as Ford helps Sara and Squeaky to pick them up. Sara also pulls the gun out on her son who keeps pestering her for money for candy. Stephanie plays the foul mouth, Squeaky excellently. She spouts off lots of humorous dialogue with Sara. Her lovely voice is heard in "Unworthy of Your Love" duet with Luke as he sings about Jodie, she sings about Charlie Manson. She is also hilarious in the pot smoking scene with Elizabeth. Michael is hysterical as Samuel Byck while clad in a Santa Claus outfit. Byck tried to kill Nixon on February 22, 1972 by trying to hijack a plane and fly it into the White House. has two enormous monologues which he delivers beautifully, leaving the audience in stitches whether he is throwing a hamburger out a car window, yelling at Leonard Bernstein on his tape recorder as well as uttering many obscenities. His facial expressions are splendid, too. The most poignant song in the show is "Something Just Broke" about the death of JFK with everyone remembering where they were and what they were doing on November 22, 1963. I remember being in fourth grade that day. So for a thought provoking, well done musical that has enough fun filled moments to balance out such a serious topic, be sure to catch "Assassins" at the Players. To become a member of this theatre club call Bill Applegate at 273-0590.

ASSASSINS (13 to 22 May)
The Players, Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit Street, Providence, RI
1(401)273-0590 or

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