Thursday, 11 April 2013

Assassins, April 11, 2013 ***

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by John Weidman
By Watch This
45downstairs.April 11 to 21, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 11
Review also published online in Herald Sun on April 12 and in print after that date. KH
The killers of American Presidents may seem unlikely and macabre characters for a musical, but Stephen Sondheim, noted for his unusual themes, depicts this motley collection of nutters in his revue-style musical, Assassins.

Assassins, with Sondheim’s eclectic music and lyrics and a witty book by John Weidman, is an old-style, musical revue set in a fairground where the proprietor of a shooting gallery provides the would-be assassins with guns.

This production, by new company Watch This, captures the bizarre nature of the characters and the wry humour, political satire and moral commentary of the script, but the quality of the singing and acting is uneven.

In a compelling, abstract world, killers from different time periods collide, sing about their obsessions, explain their motives through monologues, scenes and songs, including: Everybody’s Got The Right, Another National Anthem, Something Just Broke, and the poignant November 22, 1963, in which people recall where they were when Kennedy was shot.

Sondheim’s idiosyncratic songs straddle a range of styles and periods, but all bear his signature style and ironic tones.

Nick Simpson-Deeks, with his bright, clear, expressive vocal tones, provides the strongest all-round performance, playing the Balladeer who narrates the story, and giving a sympathetic, nuanced portrayal of the repressed Lee Harvey Oswald.

The various assassins are all demented in some way, either trying to make their mark on the world, to highlight the wrongs of government, or to vent their rage at their own predicament, social failures or rejections.

John Wilkes Booth (Mark Dickinson), the vainglorious actor who assassinates Abraham Lincoln “to heal the country”, is depicted as the villain who encourages those assassins who come after him to assert themselves by killing their target.

“Guns don’t right the wrongs”, say the lyrics of one song, but these men and women think otherwise; in the context of America’s 21st century struggle with weapons, this statement rings true.

Nadine Garner’s bold, comic characterisation of failed assassin, Sara Jane Moore, is hilarious, and her comic timing and delivery are deliciously wicked.

Luigi Lucente gives a compassionate, complex portrayal of Leon Czolgosz, the downtrodden factory worker who kills President McKinley as a political statement.

Aaron Tsindos is playful and entertaining as the ambitious Charles Guiteau, Matt Holly is a tender and tragic John Hinckley singing Unworthy of Your Love to Jodie Foster, and Shane Nagle is a suitably demented Samuel Byck, dressed as a grubby Santa Claus.

By Kate Herbert

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