Assassins (musical)

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Assassins
CD Cover of 1990 Off-Broadway Cast Recording
MusicStephen Sondheim
LyricsStephen Sondheim
BookJohn Weidman
Productions1990 Off-Broadway
1992 West End
2004 Broadway
AwardsTony Award for Best Revival of a Musical


Assassins is an American musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman, based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr. It uses the premise of a murderous carnival game to produce a revue-style portrayal of men and women who attempted to assassinate Presidents of the United States; the music varies to reflect the popular music of the eras depicted. First opening Off-Broadway in 1990, the Broadway revival of Assassins won five 2004 Tony Awards.

History

As a panelist at producer Stuart Ostrow's Musical Theater Lab, Sondheim read a script by playwright Charles Gilbert. Sondheim and his long-time collaborator John Weidman asked Gilbert for permission to use his idea.[1]

Assassins opened off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons on January 27, 1991 with seventy-three performances. The cast included Victor Garber, Terrence Mann, Lee Wilkof, Patrick Cassidy, Debra Monk, Greg Germann, and Annie Golden. The run sold out.

On October 29, 1992, Assassins opened in London at the Donmar Warehouse with a cast that included Henry Goodman as Charles Guiteau and Louise Gold as Sara Jane Moore. The show ran for 76 performances, closing on January 9, 1993. [2]

Director Joe Mantello's Broadway revival was originally scheduled for 2001 but was postponed to April 22, 2004 because the content was sensitive in light of the events on September 11, 2001.[3] and [4] After 101 performances at Studio 54, Roundabout Theater Company's Assassins closed on July 18, 2004. Neil Patrick Harris starred in the roles of The Balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald, with Marc Kudisch in an extended role as The Proprietor. Michael Cerveris played John Wilkes Booth, for which he received a Tony Award. The 2004 production was noted for a coup de theatre: the Zapruder film of the death of John F. Kennedy projected onto Lee Harvey Oswald's t-shirt. [5]

Versions and adaptations

The three versions (original, London and revival) were not identical as roles were combined and the song "Something Just Broke" was new to the London production.(Sondheim.com 2007)

In 1991, Theatre Communications Group published the libretto, which did not feature "Something Just Broke".

In the 2004 Broadway production, Scene 3 (at the bar), was slightly changed: In the old version, Hinckley knocked over the bottle when he slamed a copy of Guiteau's book on the bar, in the revival, he knocked it over when Fromme was looking over his shoulder; when Czolgosz can't break the glass bottle, in the old version, he puts it back down, but in the revival, Booth ends up breaking it himself; and in the old version, Fromme and Moore were not present in the scene, as opposed to the Roundabout production of 2004. Fromme did not quote Reagan, mocking Hinckley, as he missed his target in the 2004 show; rather, an actor performing a voice impression of Reagan is heard through the sound system.

The 2004 production did not use slides of historical photographs projected on a screen, as in past productions. The set resembled the enormous wooden frame of a rollercoaster. Under the frame was a shooting gallery. Instead of shooting at projected photographs of the presidents, the characters shot at silhouettes of each president presented as black and white target practice figures. Each presidential image was recognizable, and labeled with a number representing their consecutive order in American presidencies (Lincoln was 16, Kennedy was 35). If they hit their target successfully (in other words, if the president was killed), the figure lit up by surrounding chaser lights, and bells rang, as in a shooting gallery. If they missed their target (as in Hinckley's case), a loud, sustained buzzer was heard.

After Oswald successfully fired at Kennedy in the 2004 Broadway production, the Zapruder film of the assassination was projected onto his white T-shirt, in color.

Synopsis

Music Theater International's MTIshows.com offers a detailed summary of Assassins, condensed here.[6] The first mention of each role appears in bold font, the musical numbers are named as they appear in the show.

Assassins opens in a fairground shooting gallery where, amid flashing lights, human figures trundle past on a conveyor belt. One by one, a collection of misfits enter the stage, where the Proprietor of the game entices them to play, promising that their problems will be solved by killing a President. (Everybody’s Got the Right). John Hinckley, Leon Czolgosz, Samuel Byck, Charles Guiteau, Giuseppe Zangara, Sara Jane Moore and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme are given their guns one by one. John Wilkes Booth enters last. The Proprietor introduces him to the others as their pioneer and begins distributing ammunition. The assassins take aim as "Hail to the Chief" heralds Abraham Lincoln's offstage arrival. Booth excuses himself, a shot rings out and Booth shouts, "Sic semper tyrannis!"

In Scene 2, the Balladeer tells John Wilkes Booth's story in The Ballad of Booth. Booth is writing his rationale for murder in his diary but the Balladeer interjects that Booth's motives really had more to do with his personal problems. When Booth is wounded by a pursuing Union soldier he throws the Balladeer his diary so that he can tell his story to the world. The Balladeer reads out Booth’s self-justifications as Booth commits suicide. The Balladeer concludes that Booth was a madman whose legacy was butchery and treason and that in trying to destroy Lincoln, Booth elevated him to legend.

In Scene 3, Booth, Czolgosz, Hinckley, Zangara and Guiteau gather in a bar. Byck enters, asks if Richard Nixon has been seen around the bar, and leaves when he receives a negative answer. Guiteau toasts to the American Dream, telling of his ambition to become Ambassador to France. Zangara complains about his stomach pains, and Booth suggests fixing them by shooting the President. Hinckley accidentally breaks a beer bottle and Czolgosz flies into a rage, describing the horrors he sees in the bottle factory he works in, and how many men die or are injured just to make a bottle like the one Hinckley has just broken. Booth urges him to take control of his fate, and to break a bottle himself. But Czolgosz cannot.

Scene 4 opens with a radio report that Zangara has tried to assassinate Franklin D. Roosevelt. Five Bystanders are interviewed in turn, telling the audience their personal versions of the event; each is convinced that he or she personally saved the President (How I Saved Roosevelt). From an electric chair Zangara sings his refusal to be afraid and that he hadn't cared who he killed as long as it was one of the men who control the money. Peeved that as an "American Nothing" he has no photographers at his execution, Zangara is electrocuted.

In Scene 5, American anarchist leader Emma Goldman gives a lecture from offstage as Leon Czolgosz listens, enraptured. He introduces himself to her and declares his love. She tells him to redirect his passion to the fight for social justice. She protests at his offer to carry her bag saying, "They make us servants, Leon. We do not make servants of each other," but he insists.

In Scene 6, Fromme and Moore meet on a park bench. Fromme smokes a joint and speaks of mass murderer Charles Manson, remembering how they met and declaring herself his lover and slave. Juggling her purse, a can of Tab and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Moore claims she is an informant for the FBI (or used to be), has been a CPA, had five husbands and three children, and suffers from amnesia. Fromme declares that Manson will emerge as king of a new order and make her his queen. Moore says she thinks she knew Manson when he was younger. The scene ends as they both give Colonel Sanders the evil eye then shoot the bucket of chicken to pieces.

Czolgosz appears in Scene 7, reflecting on how many men die in the mines, the iron mills and the steel forge just to make a gun. Booth, Guiteau and Moore enter one by one and join him in a barbershop quartet in which they point out one gun's power to change the world (Gun Song). Czolgosz decides his gun will claim one more victim: the President.

In Scene 8, we see Czolgosz at the 1901 Pan American Exposition watching William McKinley shake visitors' hands in the Temple of Music Pavilion. The Balladeer sings The Ballad of Czolgosz as Czolgosz joins the receiving line. When Czolgosz reaches McKinley he shoots him.

In Scene 9 Samuel Byck sits on a park bench in a dirty Santa suit with a picket sign and a shopping bag. He talks into a tape recorder, preparing a message to Leonard Bernstein telling Bernstein he can save the world by writing more love songs. Then he accuses Bernstein of ignoring him, just like the other celebrities.

In Scene 10, Squeaky Fromme and John Hinckley sit together in Hinckley's rumpus room exchanging reflections about their love objects, Charles Manson and Jodie Foster. Fromme mocks Hinckley for being in love with a woman he's never met and he orders her out. After she goes, he sings (Unworthy of Your Love). Fromme returns to join him, singing of her love for Manson. Hinckley shoots at a photograph of Ronald Reagan projected on the wall but the picture keeps reappearing. Fromme mocks Hinckley, quoting Reagen's famous quips about the assassination, as Hinckley fires and fires, missing each time.

In Scene 11 Charles Guiteau flirts with Sarah Jane Moore, giving her marksmanship tips before trying to kiss her. When she rebuffs him he goes to meet James Garfield at the train station. Guiteau asks to be made Ambassador to France, and when he is rebuffed, shoots the President.

Immediately following, Scene 12 shows Guiteau at the foot of the gallows singing a poem, written that morning, that he calls "I Am Going To The Lordy". The Balladeer describes his trial and execution in The Ballad of Guiteau as Guiteau cheerfully cakewalks up the stairs to the gallows, optimistically singing of heaven. Guiteau is hanged.

In Scene 13 Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore prepare to assassinate Gerald Ford. Moore has brought along her nine-year-old son and her dog. The President enters and attempts to help Moore collect her dropped bullets; she fails to assassinate him. Next Fromme tries, but her gun doesn’t go off. Moore resorts to throwing her bullets at him.

In Scene 14, Samuel Byck is on his way to the airport to hijack a plane, which he plans to crash dive into the White House. He records a message addressed to Richard Nixon, complaining about contemporary American life and announces that killing a President is the only solution.

In Scene 15 crowd noises supply a wordless lamentation for the victims of the assassins as the assassins reiterate their motives, and demand their prizes. The Balladeer tells them that their actions didn't solve their problems or the country's and that if they want their prizes they must follow the American Dream. The assassins realize that they will never get their prizes and unite with Another National Anthem which grows louder and louder as they force the Balladeer offstage, a song to be sung by all Americans dispossessed by the dream.

In Scene 16, Lee Harvey Oswald appears, preparing to kill himself in a storeroom on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Booth interrupts him and convinces him to murder John F. Kennedy instead. Summoning the other assassins from the shadows, Booth tells Oswald that by joining them he will become part of the American experience, but Oswald refuses. Booth tells him that in the future, when Hinckley’s room is searched, Oswald's biographies will be found. Summoning the voices of Arthur Bremer, Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray, Booth tells Oswald that the key to the future is in his hands. Oswald tries to leave, but Zangara addresses him passionately in Italian, a speech translated by the other assassins, imploring him to act so their own acts can come alive again. He has power. He can close the New York Stock Exchange, cause worldwide grief, inspire, finally, passion about a man the world has never cared about. As the assassins sing, imploring Oswald to act, he crouches at the window and shoots. (November 22, 1963)

In Scene 17[7] six Americans recount how they remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard President Kennedy had been shot. (Something Just Broke)

In Scene 18, the assassins reappear, now with Oswald in their ranks. They restate their motto (Everybody's Got the Right, reprise) and fire their guns at the audience.

(Musical Theater International 2007)

Cultural impact

By developing the characters of historic assassins out of the slim biographical information found in the daily news, Assassins prompts us to consider their motivation. "(Sondheim) confronts pain in order to cauterize the decay and heal the sicknesses which lurk at the core of our society". Departing from the humanism of his previous musical Into the Woods, Sondheim suggests that political murderers are a product of the American political culture.(Joanne Gordon)[8]

Historian and commentator Sarah Vowell introduced her 2005 analysis of the Lincoln, McKinley and Garfield murders, Assassination Vacation, with a journey from New York City into New England to attend a performance of Assassins, the musical prompting her writing of the book (Vowell 2005).

Awards and nominations

Tony Award
  • Best Revival of a Musical (WINNER)
  • Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Michael Cerveris)(WINNER)
  • Best Lighting Design (Peggy Eisenhauer and Jules Fisher)(WINNER)
  • Best Direction of a Musical (Joe Mantello) (WINNER)
  • Best Orchestration (Michael Starobin)(WINNER)
  • Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Denis O'Hare) (nominated)
  • Best Scenic Design (nominated)
Drama Desk Award
  • Outstanding Revival of a Musical (WINNER)
  • Outstanding Director of a Musical (nominated)
  • Outstanding Orchestrations (nominated)
  • Outstanding Set Design of a Musical (nominated)
  • Outstanding Lighting Design (nominated)
  • Outstanding Sound Design (nominated)
  • Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical (Marc Kudisch) (nominated)

Recordings

Recordings of both the Off-Broadway production and the 2004 revival are commercially available[9]. The Off-Broadway version omits 'Something Just Broke', which was added to the show for the subsequent London production.

Performances

Geoffrey Whitworth Theatre, Crayford, Kent, United Kingdom (June / July 2006)[1](Photos of production)

Trivia

  • Would-be Nixon assassin Samuel Byck wrote numerous letters to composer Leonard Bernstein, including details of his plan for killing President Nixon. In Assassins Byck repeatedly refers to Bernstein's musicals, including West Side Story, one of Stephen Sondheim's early successes as a lyricist. The play-out music following scene 9 is a modified "haunted" version of West Side Story's "America".
  • Forbidden Broadway parodied the Assassins song "Unworthy of Your Love" with "Unworthy of Your Words", an ode to Stephen Sondheim's lyric and musical styles.
  • Mary Catherine Garrison, who played Fromme in the 2004 Revival, corresponded with the real-life Fromme in preparation for her role.

References

Notes

1. ^ Amazing Journey: Story of Assassins
2. ^ [2]
3. ^ [3]
4. ^ [4]
5. ^ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Christopher Rawson, May 23, 2004, pg. G-3
6. ^ Edited for length.
7. ^ Not included in the original, Scene 17 was added to the London production by Sondheim and Weidman.
8. ^ Art Isn't Easy: The Theater of Stephen Sondheim, Gordon, Joanne, 1990 & 1992, pg. 318 and 337, DaCapo Press, Inc., ISBN 0-306-80468-9
9. ^ The Off-Broadway production is audio CD ASIN: B000003F3N and the revival is ASIN: B0002B161Y.

Bibliography

  • Amazon.com, Inc. (2007). Assassins (Hardcover). Amazon.com. Amazon.com, Inc.. Retrieved on 2007-03-16.
  • hijinks design (2004). Assassins. Sondheim.com. Retrieved on 2007-03-16.
  • Music Theater International (2007). Assassins. MTIshows.com. Music Theater International. Retrieved on 2007-03-18.
  • Vowell, Sarah (2005). Assassination Vacation. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 10: 0743260031. 

External links

Awards
Preceded by
Nine
Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical
2004
Succeeded by
La Cage aux Folles
20th century - 21st century
1960s  1970s  1980s  - 1990s -  2000s  2010s  2020s
1987 1988 1989 - 1990 - 1991 1992 1993

Year 1990 (MCMXC) was a common year starting on Monday (link displays the 1990 Gregorian calendar).
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Off Broadway plays or musicals are performed in New York City in smaller theatres than Broadway, but larger than Off-Off-Broadway, productions.

Off Broadway theatres (venues) are those with 100 to 499 seats[1].
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Stephen Joshua Sondheim (b. March 22 1930) is an American stage musical and film composer and lyricist, one of the few people to win an Academy Award, multiple Tony Awards (seven, more than any other composer), multiple Grammy Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize.
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Stephen Joshua Sondheim (b. March 22 1930) is an American stage musical and film composer and lyricist, one of the few people to win an Academy Award, multiple Tony Awards (seven, more than any other composer), multiple Grammy Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize.
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John Weidman is an American librettist. He is the son of librettist and novelist Jerome Weidman.

Since 1986, John Weidman has been a staff writer for Sesame Street, for which he has won numerous Emmy Awards. He is president of the Dramatists Guild of America.
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20th century - 21st century
1960s  1970s  1980s  - 1990s -  2000s  2010s  2020s
1987 1988 1989 - 1990 - 1991 1992 1993

Year 1990 (MCMXC) was a common year starting on Monday (link displays the 1990 Gregorian calendar).
..... Click the link for more information.
Off Broadway plays or musicals are performed in New York City in smaller theatres than Broadway, but larger than Off-Off-Broadway, productions.

Off Broadway theatres (venues) are those with 100 to 499 seats[1].
..... Click the link for more information.
19th century - 20th century - 21st century
1960s  1970s  1980s  - 1990s -  2000s  2010s  2020s
1989 1990 1991 - 1992 - 1993 1994 1995

Year 1992 (MCMXCII
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Broadway theatre[1] is the most well known form of professional theatre to the American general public and most lucrative for the performers, technicians and others involved in putting on the shows.
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The Tony Award for Best Revival (Musical) has been awarded since 1994. Before that time, both plays and musicals were considered together for the Tony Award for Best Revival.
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Musical theatre is a form of theatre combining music, songs, spoken dialogue and dance. The emotional content of the piece – humor, pathos, love, anger – as well as the story itself, is communicated through the words, music, movement and technical aspects of the
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Stephen Joshua Sondheim (b. March 22 1930) is an American stage musical and film composer and lyricist, one of the few people to win an Academy Award, multiple Tony Awards (seven, more than any other composer), multiple Grammy Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize.
..... Click the link for more information.
John Weidman is an American librettist. He is the son of librettist and novelist Jerome Weidman.

Since 1986, John Weidman has been a staff writer for Sesame Street, for which he has won numerous Emmy Awards. He is president of the Dramatists Guild of America.
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revue is a type of multi-act popular theatrical entertainment that combines music, dance and sketches. The revue has its roots in nineteenth-century American popular entertainment and melodrama, but grew into a substantial cultural presence of its own during its golden years from
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Off Broadway plays or musicals are performed in New York City in smaller theatres than Broadway, but larger than Off-Off-Broadway, productions.

Off Broadway theatres (venues) are those with 100 to 499 seats[1].
..... Click the link for more information.
20th century - 21st century
1960s  1970s  1980s  - 1990s -  2000s  2010s  2020s
1987 1988 1989 - 1990 - 1991 1992 1993

Year 1990 (MCMXC) was a common year starting on Monday (link displays the 1990 Gregorian calendar).
..... Click the link for more information.
Broadway theatre[1] is the most well known form of professional theatre to the American general public and most lucrative for the performers, technicians and others involved in putting on the shows.
..... Click the link for more information.
Tony Award

Designed by Herman Rosse, 1949
Awarded for Excellence in theatre
Presented by American Theatre Wing and the League of American Theatres and Producers
Country  United States
First awarded 1947
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Stuart Ostrow (born circa 1932) is an American theatrical producer and director, professor, and author.

Born in New York City, Ostrow began his career as an apprentice of Frank Loesser and eventually became Vice-President and General Manager of Frank Music Corporation and
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Off Broadway plays or musicals are performed in New York City in smaller theatres than Broadway, but larger than Off-Off-Broadway, productions.

Off Broadway theatres (venues) are those with 100 to 499 seats[1].
..... Click the link for more information.
Playwrights Horizons is a not-for-profit Off-Broadway theater located in New York City dedicated to the support and development of contemporary American playwrights, composers, and lyricists, and to the production of their new work.
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January 27 is the 1st day of the year (2nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 0 days remaining.

Events

  • 98 - Trajan becomes Roman Emperor after the death of Nerva.
  • 672 - St.

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Victor Garber

Birth name Victor Joseph Garber
Born March 16 1949 (1949--) (age 58)
London, Ontario, Canada
Died

Awards

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Terrence Mann (born Terrance Vaughan Mann on July 1, 1951 in Ashland, Kentucky) is a singer and actor who has been prominent on the Broadway stage for the past two decades.
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Patrick Cassidy (born January 4 1962 in Los Angeles, California) is an American actor best known for his roles in musical theatre and television. He is the son of Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy. His brothers are Ryan and Shaun Cassidy, and his half-brother is David Cassidy.
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Debra Monk

Born January 27 1949 (1949--) (age 58)
Middletown, Ohio, U.S.
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