By: Ronnie Ruff
Assassins at Signature Theatre
There is so much to like about a new Signature show even one they have done before, so when one goes bad there is a mourning period. I saw the show last night, had a late dinner, a good night sleep and I am ready to move on. Well, not yet…. Let’s talk about this.
Assassins is a great show, it is funny, has great songs, and even has a message.. So what went wrong? Let’s face it, Signature has done this show before! Well, the show has problems in the staging. Why are these assassins chasing each other around? I like the idea of we, the audience facing ourselves and asking, “could it have been me?” but why all the movement out into the audience and even worse, many times the action is moved behind some of the audience. Imaginative staging is something that we love to see but there are times when the staging just gets in the way of the show as it does here.
First performed off Broadway in 1990, Assassins is a intricate and contentious musical that tells a unblenching, unnerving story of politics meeting mental illness and social disarray. Mixing fact, fiction, and social observation together into notable lines and mindfully delicate melodies, acclaimed songwriter Sondheim and his collaborator Weidman reimagine and interweave the biographies of 13 infamous figures. From John Wilkes Booth to John Hinkley, Jr., the audience meets each assassin as they plot to kill a president.
There were quite a few pleasing performances regardless of the staging problems mentioned earlier, the one clear standout being Andy Brownstein who plays Samuel Byck who tried unsuccessfully to kill Richard Nixon. While not known as a singer his performance was bright, funny and his Nixon “voice” was particularly excellent. Erin Driscoll as “Squeaky” Fromme was full of energy, pesky and would have Charlie Manson cheering wildly! Donna Migliaccio as Sara Jane Moore was also hilarious and her timing perfect. Stephen Gregory Smith captures the nuance of Oswald to close the show. Standing out musically were favorites “Everybody’s Got The Right” and “Another national Anthem”.
The sound design of the show had some serious problems, Stephen Gregory Smith who is our balladeer can barely be heard much of the time needed a mic badly. At times other actors were difficult to hear. Set design, which consisted of a mirror of the audience (seats and more seats) was a nifty idea but with stage action spilling out into the real audience throughout the show there were huge problems with sight lines or the lack of them. Costume design was well thought out and carried out based of course on the time period of each assassin.
Over all Assassins was an enjoyable performance that contained some annoying issues that could have been worse had I been sitting in the first section of seating. Director Joe Calarco’s production has troublesome staging (not so easily fixed mid run) and sound problems that could easily be fixed by micing the cast. If you will be buying seats I recommend sitting in the rear section and the center if possible. All told Assassins is a disappointment mainly because Signature is capable of so much more.
Thanks, Al. We are now officially sold out for the entire run. I am glad you enjoyed it, as so many have. Discussion nights have been so amaxing on this one, too. The best theatre is theatre that causes people to talk. To love it or hate it. This reaction is what we all strive for. This reaction also sells tickets. My hats off to DCTheatre Reviews for helping do that. Luv, SGS
My understanding is that ASSASSINS was originally a "workshop", experimental piece that morphed into the amazing stage vehicle we know today. The original and then the revival in New York were different as are the 2 Signature versions. This current version, I understand, includes the new song SOMETHING JUST BROKE that was written for and incorporated into the revival. Signature Theater breathes new life into many productions, especially some which weren’t so successful the first time out. I understand Eric Shaeffer is even involved in re-working Sondheim’s BOUNCE and it might actually be re-staged again. They bring in a lot of New York talent and showcase a lot of the incredible local talent we’re blessed with here in D.C. I’ve not been disappointed in anything I’ve seen there. You want traditional, safe staging go to community theater shows for that. But for excitement, innovation and drama in staging and talent, I’ll check out Signature anytime. This Assassins is amazing!
Amen. Thanks for that. Audiences night after night have been captivated and enthralled by the show, and seem to love the environmental staging. The point of staging bits of the show in the audience is to show the likeness of the Assassins to all of you in the audience. The whole point of the concept. Break the mold. Do the show in a different vein. Break it!
This is a show that is different. So what? That’s what is great about it. So Signature did it 14 years ago, how many new Sondheim shows are there? After a while they will have to repeat. They did with Sweeney Todd and next Into the Woods. Is that a theatrical crime? So they mounted it differently this time. Good for them. Live theater is not a movie where the same thing happens every time. This is a solid production and if the movement bothers you would you rather go to a concert? Maybe you should just get a cd and sit at home and enjoy yourself.
I went to see the show the other night and absolutely loved it. This review complains about the staging, but I found it to make the show even more exciting. It’s a shame that some are not open minded when it comes to theatre. Most if not all productions you sit in the audience and watch the stage. That’s fine, but it’s so refreshing when someone like Joe Carlarco deciedes to take a risk, do something different. THAT’S what theatre is all about. I loved that we as an audience were involved. I was in the front section and didn’t mind that at points there were things going on behind me. And if there were it wasn’t like the entire show was set behind part of the audience, it was only bits and pieces. I’m not one to normally comment on these pages, but I felt compelled to after seeing the show. I love the show, and I truely enjoyed this productions. And according to most of other reveiws, they agree. As a matter of fact this, so far, is the only bad one I have read. Not saying that I have read every review, but the main ones. Not to mention the UNBELIEVEABLE cast. There is a lot of talent on that stage. In short if you wanna go see a standard theatre show, go somewhere else. If you want to see something new, something different, see Assasins. That’s what signature is all about and that’s why people go there. THAT’s why all they’re shows are sold out. And Janet, you don’t feel the 2 hours go by at all. I mean if you can sit and watch a movie, I don’t see why you would be stressing out about sitting in the theatre for 2 hours. That doesn’t make much sense. ANd if you wanna sell your ticket, I’m sure that you will be able to find plenty of people who would buy it. After all they had to extend yet another week because of ticket sales. Although it would be a shame for you to miss out.
People are…in droves. the time passes by like water. Unless it is not your thing…if not…don’t come. We are sold out anyway.
Two hours with NO intermission? Anybody want to buy a ticket?
First of all, thanks for providing a website in the DC area specifically dedicated to theater review at its finest. DC Theater Review is commended for establishing an outlet via the internet for some serious exchange of "theatrical conversation." Thus far, it appears you have NOT gotten assassinated, but enthusiastically welcomed by the loyal DC theater-going community. Speaking of Assassins, I recently took in the show and was less than enamored due to directorial weakness rather than what the talented set of actors apparently were capable of providing, in this difficult but full of conflicting messages Steven Sondheim masterpiece. As commented in other reviews, the director uses what’s behind the curtain modus operandi quite effectively when the show opens. The problem is there is too much actor partitioned stage to play on and it is ineffectively used. The problem– too many chairs that infringe on actor space forcing them into audience space. Now, in some shows the intersection of the audience and the stage can work wonders a la Disney’s Lion King. It does not work in this case since the audience space is constantly invaded upon as the actors scream and run around further distracting the audience concentration level and its attempt to focus on the message conveyance. As said by others, this show was done successfully by Signature 14 years ago, yet this time around it appears that the actors have the potential and capability of providing even more talent, but the director has disconnected its actor/audience lifeline. The actors’ constant movements into audience space disorient the message making the patrons work even harder at interpretation. Even when this same director effectively utilized Signature’s space during its run of Urinetown, there was still a division between actor and audience. With the constant activity displayed throughout the evening, I fear that the audience has the capability to disrupt the play and an actor can be injured within the close quarters of running around this black-box theater. Finally, even though I can understand the directors desire not to disrupt the message being presented, sitting two hours with no intermission does not provide the audience the chance to come up for air. There’s a lot going on and sometimes in a show like this, we need a little time for digestion.