Certainly it’s not political to make a musical about real-life murders, like presidential murders, rather than from, say, fictional ones, “Sweeny Todd”-like slasher murders. To cast black humor and Swiftian, “Humble Proposal”-style satire into such a musical would not only be grossly and grossly insensitive, it would be next to impossible, right?
Bullets through brains – funny?
John Sbordone, co-founder and director of Palm Coast’s City Repertory Theater has a retort for any naysayers who may be screeching about the CRT’s 2022-23 season opener: Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins,” which airs Friday, September 23 2 Oct
“I would invite you to come and watch the scene with Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore and not laugh your ass off,” says Sbordone, referring to President Gerald Ford’s real-life would-be assassins.
In addition to Assassins, City Rep’s upcoming season will include the 1892 farce Charley’s Aunt, the revue A King & Two Queens, the jukebox musical Honky Tonk Angels, and George C. Wolfe’s often satirical renditions of the African American Life in The Colored Museum, the Moliere adaptation Scapino! and the Arthur Miller drama All My Sons.
Assassins, the 1990 play with music and lyrics by Sondheim and a book by John Weidman (based on an original concept by Charles Gilbert Jr.), weaves the true-life stories of nine presidential assassins and would-be assassins into a bizarre musical Fantasy. Characters include John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Ronald Reagan and Ford gunmen, and other villains. (And yes, says Sbordone, the play takes liberties with the story.)
The musical begins with a character known as the proprietor directing a twisted carnival game at a shooting gallery in which the targets are American presidents. After convincing passers-by – those historic soon-to-be assassins – to play, he arms them.
The assassins rampage, tease, flirt, and frolic in various settings and factions across time and space: Booth chats with Oswald, John Hinckley meets Squeaky, the gang persuades Oswald to commit his heinous act, etc.
The character known as Balladeer – who, as Sbordone puts it, “seeks to right the wrongs of the world” – sings some of the assassins’ backstories. The Balladeer also delivers tongue-in-cheek comments as she puh-puh refutes Booth’s claim that his assassination of Abraham Lincoln was in a noble cause. Instead, says the Balladeer, everyone just thought Booth, a stage actor, was just pissed off by his bad reviews.
Meanwhile, Sondheim’s score reflects the styles of popular music of the various eras represented, as well as traditional American patriotic music.
Assassins opened Off-Broadway in 1990 to mixed and negative reviews, but a 2004 Broadway production caught fire, winning five Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical.
in one 1991 New York Times storySondheim admitted he expected his play to be controversial, but he was defiant about his work: “There are always people who think that certain themes aren’t right for musicals. . . We will not apologize for addressing such a volatile topic. Virtually anything goes these days.”
“If you love theater, this play will keep you hooked,” says Sbordone. “It pulls you in 100 directions. That’s the kind of show it is. It will make you think. It can make you angry. It will make you laugh. It’ll pull you in opposite directions and you’ll be like, ‘Oh my god, this is about assassins – why do I feel like I like this guy?’ ”
“Assassins” presents a special challenge for actors, says Sbordone: “As an actor, you can’t hate your character. As an actor, you take John Wilkes Booth and you take his word for it: He’s saving the country. He kills the despot. In doing so, he changes the balance of the world and makes it a better place. I always emphasize to the actors: “Be charming. You’re angry and on your mission – but charming.” ”
The characters of “Assassins” shoot through American history and include:
- John Wilkes Booth (assassinated President Abraham Lincoln), performed by Beau Wade.
- Charles Guiteau (assassinated President James Garfield) – Michael Funaro.
- Leon Czolgosz (assassinated President William Mckinley) – Cameron Hodges.
- Giuseppe Zangara (attempted assassination of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt) – Everett Clark.
- Lee Harvey Oswald (assassinated President John F. Kennedy) – Austin Branning.
- Samuel Byck (attempted to assassinate President Richard Nixon by attempting to hijack an airliner he was about to crash into the White House) – Austin Branning.
- Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (one-time member of the Manson family, attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford) – Philipa Rose.
- Sara Jane Moore (attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford two weeks after Fromme) – Monica Clark.
- John Hinckley (attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan) – Nick Sok.
- Plus The Balladeer (Laniece Fagundes), The Proprietor (Bob Pritchard), Emma Goldman (Julia Truilo) and Young Boy (Tatum Oliver). Musical director and accompanist is keyboarder Benjamin Beck.
Here’s a look at City Repertory Theater’s 2022-23 season. Performances will be held at CRT’s Black Box Theater at City Marketplace, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Suite B207, Palm Coast. Shows are at 7:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3pm on Sundays, except “A King & Two Queens” and “The Colored Museum” have an additional performance on Thursday at 7:30pm.
Tickets are $30 adults and $25 students for Assassins and Honky Tonk Angels. All other shows are $20 for adults and $15 for students. Season tickets are $150. Individual show tickets and season subscriptions are available online at crtpalmcoast.com or by calling 386-585-9415. Tickets are also available at the venue just before curtain.
The dates in the list below are the opening and closing performances of each production.
* “Assassins” – 23 Sept-Oct 2. City Rep calls this Sondheim play “perhaps the most controversial musical ever written,” adding it is “bold, original, disturbing, and terrifyingly funny.”
* “Charley’s Aunt” – 28 Oct-Nov. 6. This Brandon Thomas farce debuted in Suffolk, England, in early 1892 and was first performed in London later that year, breaking the then current record for the longest running play in the world at 1,466 performances. The farce landed on Broadway in 1893 and later toured internationally and has since been revived and adapted for films and musicals.
The play tells the story of Jack and Charley, two college friends who desperately need a chaperone, so they convince a roommate to pose as Charley’s rich aunt from Brazil. Chaos ensues when the real aunt arrives.
* “One king and two queens – 1st-4th c. December. Sbordone and Palm Coast area author Susan Slater “put together” this cheerful “royal revue” centered on the theme of kings and queens, including “foolish Marie Antionette,” “cunning” Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Shakespearean Kings.
* “Honky Tonk Angels” – May 13-22 January 2023. This jukebox musical by Ted Swindley, creator of Always . . . Patsy Cline” uses 30 classic country songs like “Stand by Your Man”, “9 to 5” and “Harper Valley PTA” to tell the story of three women who pursue their honky tonk dreams in Nashville.
* “The Colored Museum” – 16th-19th February 2023. In this 1986 play, George C. Wolfe, author of “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk” and “Jelly’s Last Jam”, uses satire, song, poetry and drama to explore African American life, culture and investigate customs. The play’s 11 “exhibits” — short vignettes — include “The Hairpiece,” “The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play,” and “Cooking’ with Aunt Ethel,” in which a cooking show host sings the recipe how to “bake yourself a load of negros”.
* “Scapino!” — 17th–26th March 2023. Jim Dale and Frank Dunlop adapted the French playwright Molière’s 1671 play ‘Les Fourberies de Scapin’ (‘Scapin the Schemer’) for this 1974 comedy. The story follows the servant Scapino as he tries to to manipulate his master Geronte and his family.
* “All My Sons” – April 28 – May 7, 2023. In Arthur Miller’s 1946 drama, family intrigues intertwine with subterfuges over a military construction contract that has led to a deadly outcome.