‘Do you want to kill a president?’
It’s not the sort of question one regularly grapples with, especially here in Australia. It is, however, at the core of Assassins, the Stephen Sondheim musical making its premier in Canberra thanks to Everyman Theatre Company.
Evolved from an idea of playwright Charles Gilbert Jr, Assassins uses a carnival of murderous intent as the spark for a revue-style exploration of the men and women who have attempted, and succeeded, in killing a president of the United States of America. Our cast of miscreants include:
- John Wilkes Booth (assassinated President Abraham Lincoln)
- Charles Guiteau (assassinated President James Garfield)
- Leon Czolgosz (assassinated President William McKinley)
- Giuseppe Zangara (attempted assassin of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt)
- Lee Harvey Oswald (assassinated President John F Kennedy)
- Samuel Byck (attempted assassin of President Richard Nixon)
- Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme and Sara Jane Moore (attempted assassins of President Gerald Ford)
- John Hinckley Jr (attempted assassin of President Ronald Reagan)
We also have the ‘American dream’, personified as The Balladeer, to guide us through each assassin’s story.
Through songs and music that range in style depending on the time period of each assassin, we come to understand what drove each of these people to commit the devastating act they sought to carry out: the cult of celebrity, the death of the American dream, the forward march of capitalism, the denial of equality, the crushing isolation of the marginalised.
The assassins navigate a space resembling a tattered fair ground, set building with, and pulling props from, wooden crates that conveniently bear their names. They alternate between sharing their own story and playing a supporting role in the stories of others, giving the sense that despite their isolation from mainstream society they have found community in a common cause. Everything about the production is spot on, the music performed live is seamless, the performances are pitch perfect in tone and the ensemble of players well balanced.
Assassins is a significant pivot from Everyman’s offering of Queers earlier in the year, highlighting the range of the company and cementing their penchant for bringing the challenging and unexpected to Canberra. Assassins is a complex but ultimately rewarding piece of work that allows us a glimpse into the inner experience of those we revile.
18 – 21 September
Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim with book by John Weidman, based on an idea by Charles Gilbert Jr. Directed by Grant Pegg and Kelly Roberts with musical direction by Xander Unikowski.