Review: Assassins: Hits Close to Center, But Not Dead On.3 min read

AssassinsNew York City Center
Assassins: Erin Markey, Steven Boyer, John Ellison Conlee, Steven Pasquale, Cory Michael Smith, Alex Brightman, Shuler Hensley, Victoria Clark, Danny Wolohan. Photos by Joan Marcus.

Assassins: Hits Close to Center, But Not Dead On.

By Ross
This is one strange musical. There, I said it. So I can understand why so many people vehemently or mildly dislike Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. I truly can, but I have to admit my love of Sondheim’s wit and lyrics, along with his unique musical sensibility always wins me over. He is able to create something out of the oddest idea, that is just so fascinating. Assassins which first was scheduled to make its Broadway debut in September of 2001 had the very worse timing you could possibly imagine.  The content was seen as too perplexing in light of the attacks on September 11th, 2001, so the opening was postponed until the spring of 2004, hoping the world would be ready for a show that would explore the numerous assassination attempts on American Presidents.
The timing is still a perplexing affair. After the magnificent but unfairly protested Julius Caesar that graced the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, Assassins resonates on a very different level.  The Public Theater envisioned Caesar as a Trump-like buffoon and proceeded to have him assassinated by Brutus for the ‘good of the country’. In the New York City Center’s Encore! Off-Center’s production, there are many a moment when the character tries to sell a similar scenario, with far too many parallels to our modern day situation. At times, it feels dangerous (and I mean that in the best of all possible ways) and hilarious at the same time. I had seen the perfect and slick Roundabout revival back in 2004 starring Michael Cerveris (John Wilkes Booth) and Neil Patrick Harris (as both the Balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald), and fell in love with the insanity of it all. This time round, it doesn’t seem to click and punch in the same manner. Some characters don’t seem as funny as before, so I’m wondering: Is it Anne Kauffman’s direction of this production? Or is it is because we are hearing this musical at this specific time and place, with that man as the President?
AssassinsNew York City Center
Victoria Clark, John Ellison Conlee, Shuler Hensley, Steven Pasquale. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Kauffman’s direction is not as clear and concise as it could be.  She manages to move everyone around as they should but never with enough spot on momentum or crispness. Kauffman, so great directing Playwrights Horizons’ A Life and Marjorie Prime, falters in the same unfocused manner she did with Roundabout’s Marvin’s Room.  It is an Encores! Off-Centered so I will give it a bit of a pass because of the condensed rehearsal schedule, but I will say that the show seemed to lack a bullseye aim.  The microphone stands seemed to get in the way, and didn’t seem to really play much of a purpose, and the staging lacked precision (Choreographer: Lorin Latarro).  And even though on Wednesday night there seemed to be numerous sound problems with mics, most seemed to come from the actor’s microphones attached to their person. The overall perspective lacked a drive forward that would pull all of these carnival-like side show personalities into a clearer focus and into a deeper understanding. Donyale Werle’s set started out on a high note with the spectacular shooting range target tracks and museum-like presentation of weaponry, but lost its stride with the banquettes, tables, and chairs.  A bland coffee shop in some sort of purgatory where all the murderous men and women who attempted (successfully or not) to assassinate Presidents of the United States is a compelling idea, but the blocking felt crowded and the movements clumsy.  I wanted more fun aggressive carnival and less grey, to help lead the way out of this absurdist scenario (costumes: Clint Ramos; lighting: Mark Barton; sound; Leon Rothenberg). (for the full review, click here)
AssassinsNew York City Center
Clifton Duncan, Erin Markey, Danny Wolohan, Alex Brightman, John Ellison Conlee, Steven Pasquale, Shuler Hensley, Steven Boyer, Victoria Clark. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Posted on July 13, 2017

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