Assassins By Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman
Directed by Alan Bruun
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando Fl</strong>
It’s hard to think of a less promising topic for a musical than interviews with people who not only didn’t like the president, but decided to take the law into their own hands. Even through the skilled writing of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, it’s a tough show to connect with despite the excellent direction and acting by the Mad Cow crew.
Kevin Kelly plays the pocked and convincing great granddaddy of American assassins, John Wilkes Booth. Of all the shooters, Booth presents at least a reasonable justification for his actions – vengeance for the humiliation the South had suffered at Lincoln’s hands. The Balladeer (Jacob Haines) proclaims Lincoln had some mixed reviews, but his untimely death vaulted him to the pantheon of the New World Gods overnight. Other early assassins such as Leon Czolgosz (Jay T. Becker) and Giuseppe Zangara (Eddy Coppens) leaned more toward the Anarchist Labor complaint of “Why haven’ I made it in America yet?” The modern post Kennedy killers seemed more wacked out with rationalizations ranging from a creepy John Hinckley’s hormone induced “This will impress Jody Foster” to Squeaky Fromm’s (Meggin Weaver) love for Charles Manson.
With difficult material, “Assasins” gives the actors some challenges. Still, batty Sara Jane Moore (Kate O’Neil) stole the show with her “Go to the store, drop off the dry cleaning, shoot the president” planning. The flaming Charles Guituea (Jonathan Lange) and Sam Byck’s (Kurt von Schmittou) evil looking Santa added a necessary comic element to the proceedings. Kelly’s Booth and the Balladeer both get top marks for singing – their “Ballad of Booth” propelled the show into action and it never slowed until the moving “Another National Anthem” which reaches some ambiguous conclusions. The weirdest moment comes at the end, when the cast convinces Lee Harvey Oswald (Jesse LeNoir) to forgo suicide for a pop at a Kennedy. I’ve heard my share of conspiracy theories, but this was a new one.
For a musical, there’s minimal romance, a cast of barely likeable scoundrels, and more actual history than you might expect in an evening of theater, but it’s a show worth seeing. There’s more action than Godot, and you can almost hum “Everybody’s Got the Right” out into the lobby. I don’t recommend using a gun on an elected official, but November is coming up fast and I’m sure you can find SOMEone to vote against.
For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com