Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Assassins"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2006 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Uncommon Theatre's current presentation is Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins" which is performed by their young adult company. "Assassins" lays bare the lives of nine individuals who assassinated or tried to assassinate the President of the United States in a historical "revusical" that explores the dark side of the American experience. From John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, Sondheim and John Weidman bend the rules of time and space, taking us on a nightmarish rollercoaster ride in which assassins and would-be assassins from different historical periods meet, interact and in an intense final scene inspire each other to harrowing act in the name of the American Dream. The score contains patiches of American music throughout the ages from folk to ragtime to 1970's soft rock. Director Christa Crewdson assembles a talented cast of 20 young adults to fill these roles while music director Chris Charig taught the cast the intricate score which rewards all of them with a thunderous and well deserved ovation at the close of this thought invoking musical.

Christa not only directs and blocks this show wonderfully but also taught these young adults who all these historical figures were. Chris not only directs his four member combo but plays keyboards for the show, too. Val Dotolo, the stage manager, keeps things moving smoothly all night long. One of the cast members, Jonathan Grenon, a junior at Wagner College, designed the set, the costumes and hair and makeup for the show. He also plays the role of Zangara, the assassin of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak who intended to kill FDR. Jonathan plays the immigrant with the bad stomach with an excellent Italian accent and his song with the chorus, "I Saved Roosevelt" while being electrocuted is well done.

Sarah Littman is the Proprietor of the guns who tries to convince both the audience and assassins that it is everyone's right to buy guns to kill presidents in the opening song "Everybody's Got the Right". She hands all the killers their weapons as she belts out the song beautifully. Kevin Hanley who is a junior at Wagner College, plays the lead role of the Balladeer as well as Lee Harvey Oswald. As the Balladeer, he comments on the events as they are happening and uses his gorgeous tenor voice to fills the theatre with its power and strength in his many songs including "The Ballad of Booth", "How I Saved Roosevelt", "The Ballad of Czolgosz", "The Ballad of Guiteau" and "Another National Anthem". Kevin as Oswald is unsure of what to do at first but the other assassins convince him to do the evil deed to kill John Kennedy and the show takes a frightening turn. His dramatic scene with Ben Goldsmith as John Wilkes Booth is fantastic. Ben is a sophomore at the University of Hartford and his tall imposing figure as the demented Booth, captures your attention while the dramatic scene with Kevin is a definite standout moment, showing off their acting prowess.

17 year old Nick Chris plays Leon Czolgosz, the baby faced Socialist killer of McKinley in 1901. Leon who is one of the most intense assassins, is in love with Emma Goldman played by Colleen Murphy and his dementia comes from being burned in a bottle making plant. This young man plays all his scenes very well. Matt Whitman, a freshman at NYU, plays Charles Guiteau, the disappointed office seeker who killed Garfield in 1881. This character is bigger than life and Matt gives him the comic edge needed. He also shows off his powerful voice in the group numbers and in his duet with Kevin called "The Ballad of Guiteau" where he sings a gospel like song as he is being lead to the gallows. Mansfield High School senior Keith Pinault plays the nerdy psychopath, John Hinckley who tried to kill Reagan in 1981. Hinckley's obsession with actress, Jodie Foster comes through in his duet called "Unworthy of Your Love". Three of the biggest scene stealers in this show are Jennie Kilduff, Brittaney Talbot and Matthew Timmons. Jennie, a 17 year old senior at Mansfield high plays the spastic, clumsy Sara Jane Moore who tried to kill Gerald Ford in 1975 as did Squeaky Fromme played by Brittaney, a student at UConn. Jennie as Sara keeps shooting at a KFC bucket for practice and when she tries to kill Ford, she keeps dropping the bullets. She also pulls her gun on her son, Billy who keeps pestering her for more money for candy. (12 year old Sam Morrish plays the bratty son wonderfully while Zack Bloom plays the clumsy Gerald Ford who trips and falls while unwittingly helping to pick up the bullets from the 2 women who want to kill him's guns.) Brittaney plays the foul mouth Squeaky with ease, spouting off some humorous dialogue especially with Jennie. Matt, a senior at Xavierian High School is freaking hilarious clad in a Santa outfit as Samuel Byck, the attempted assassin of Nixon on February 22, 1972. Byck wanted to hijack a plane and fly it into the White House. Matt has the most demanding role with two mammoth monologues which he delivers excellently. Whether he is on a park bench or driving a car, his lines leave the audience laughing uncontrollably. Matt throws a hamburger out the car window, gives a fellow driver the finger and utters vulgarities with ease. His facial expressions are a hoot, too. The most moving song is "Something Just Broke" which is lead by Emily Lovejoy and sung by the chorus members. The song is about the death of JFK and everybody remembered where they were on November 22, 1963 which is true in real life because I was in fourth grade on that day. Kudos to everyone who made this a production to be proud of. So for a thought provoking musical that has enough fun filled moments to balance out such a serious topic, be sure to catch "Assassins" at Uncommon Theatre.

"Assassins" (17 - 20 August)
1 School Street, FOXBORO MA
1 (508) 698-3098

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide