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.