Theatre Mirror Review "Assassins"


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2014 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

New Repertory Theater's current production of their 30th Anniversary season is Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins" which one five Tony Awards in 2004 including Best Revival. "Assassins" lays bare the lives of 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. It uses 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 an harrowing act on their way to the American Dream. The score contains pastiches of American music throughout the ages from folk to rock to 1970's soft rock. Director Jim Petosa assembles 12 talented cast members to fill these roles while musical director Matthew Stern taught them this intricate score and Judith Chaffee supplies them with inventive dance moves winning them a thunderous ovation at the close of this thought provoking musical.

Jim not only directs and blocks the show splendidly, he has his cast embody these roles on many different levels. They give a multi-layered performance as these historical figures. Matthew plays piano and leads a terrific 8 piece orchestra. Judith's big dance numbers include "Another National Anthem" & "The Ballad of Guiteau". Benjamin Evett is the Proprietor of the guns. He tries to convince everyone including the audience and assassins that is all right to buy guns to kill the presidents in the opening number "Everybody's Got the Right."  Benjamin hands the weapons to the killers as he belts out the number splendidly. Evan Gamberdella plays the lead role of the Balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald. As the Balladeer, he comments on the events as they are happening and uses his strong high tenor voice in his many songs including "The Ballad of Booth", "I Saved Roosevelt", The Ballad of Czolgosz", "The Ballad of Guiteau" and "Another National Anthem." Evan as Oswald is unsure of what to do at first but the other assassins convince him to kill John Kennedy and the show takes a frightening turn. The Oswald and Booth dramatic scene is fantastic. Mark Linehan shines as John Wilkes Booth. His tall imposing figure as the demented Booth, combined with his marvelous tenor voice heard in "The Ballad of Booth" and "The Gun Song", definitely captures your attention. Mark commands the stage as Booth and also has a marvelous Southern accent. The dramatic scene with Evan displays their strong acting prowess in these roles. Harrison Bryan plays Giuseppe Zangara, the Italian immigrant who wanted to kill FDR but instead killed Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago. Harrison has an excellent Italian accent as Zangara who had a bad stomach and displays his topnotch voice with the chorus backing him in "I Saved Roosevelt" while being electrocuted.

Kevin Patrick Martin plays Leon Czolgosz, the baby faced killer of McKinley in 1901. Leon who is one of the most intense assassins, is in love with Emma Goldman played by Casey Tucker. His dementia comes from being burnt in a chemical plant. Kevin's acting prowess comes across in this dramatic role and he has a splendid Polish accent. His terrific voice is heard in "The Gun Song","The Ballad of Czolgosz" and in the group numbers. He sells his song to an appreciative crowd and he uses his lower register in the vocals.Charles Guiteau, the disappointed office seeker who killed Garfield in 1881 is well played by Brad Daniel Peloquin. The character is larger than life and Brad gives him the comic edge it needs. He displays his powerful voice in the group numbers and in "The Ballad of Guiteau" with Evan. It is a rousing gospel number as he is being lead to the gallows. Patrick Varner plays the nerdy psychopath John Hinckley who tried to kill Reagan in 1981. His obsession with actress, Jodie Foster comes through in his song "Unworthy of Your Love" duet with Squeaky. Patrick is topnotch in this role.

Three of the biggest scene stealers in this show are Paula Langton, McCaela Donovan and Peter Adams. Paula plays the spastic, clumsy Sara Jane Moore who tried to kill Gerald Ford in 1975 as did Squeaky Fromme played by McCaela. Paula as Sara keeps shooting at a bucket of KFC for practice and when she tries to kill Ford, she keeps dropping the bullets. Sara also pulls the gun out on her son who keeps pestering her for money for candy. When she and Squeaky drop the bullets, Ford helps them pick them up. McCaela plays the foul mouthed Squeaky excellently, spouting off a lot of humorous dialogue with Sara Jane Moore. Her glorious voice is heard in "Unworthy of Your Love" duet with Patrick. Squeaky sings of her love for Charlie. (Charles Manson) McCaela is hilarious in the pot smoking scene. Peter is hilarious 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 flying it into the White House. Peter has two enormous monologues which he delivers beautifully, leaving the audience in stitches whether he is throwing a hamburger out a car window, giving the finger to a fellow driver and uttering many obscenities. His facial expressions are priceless, too. Jesse Garlick is the dance captain for the show and he and Casey appear throughout the show in various roles. 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 the fourth grade that day. Kudos to one and all who make this a production to be very proud of. So for a thought provoking, excellently done musical that has enough fun filled moments to balance out such a serious topic, be sure to catch "Assassins" at New Repertory Theater. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Assassins" (4 - 26 October)
@ 321 Arsenal Street, WATERTOWN MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide