I used to think I was a Stephen Sondheim fan through and through, but there a few of his shows that I encounter that make me wonder what the hell he was smoking when he wrote it, and Assassins is one of those shows for me. Now, much like Sweeney Todd, I realize I just don’t like this show’s concept or story (and I use the term story loosely as the plot for this show is nonexistent), and the music doesn’t do enough for me to make the weak book worth sitting through.
Perhaps it was because, at the request of my +1, I sat in the first row of the balcony, so I wasn’t able to see the acting head on, or perhaps it was because everyone else who I know saw this show raved about it so my expectations were too high, or maybe it was just an off night for this clearly talented cast as it was a Thursday night…I don’t know, all I know is I was no where near entertained; in fact I was bored out of my mind the entire time. So bored, I just felt like Cumberbatch in that one episode of Sherlock, you know the one where he shoots the wall out of boredom. Sadly, with all the guns in the room, none were available to me to put myself out of my misery with having to sit through Assassins.
There is no intermission in this show, which is a bummer, cuz trust me, I would not have stayed for a second act. And never one to be shy about leaving in a blackout, but again, as I was my +1s ride, I couldn’t just walk out like I wanted to, so I suffered through the entire show, and here are my thoughts in quick and dirty form, as I don’t really want to relive that experience too vividly:
1. Most of the characters are forgettable, their stories told through one scene into one song, and then on to the next assassin.
The standout acting chops for me go to Kendra Kassebaum, who played Sara Jane Moore. Ms. Kassebaum was so committed to her character, so consistent in her choices, I was impressed with her performance
I also thoroughly enjoyed Brandon O’Neill as Leon Czolgosz. Mr. O’Neill’s monologue
delivery tugged on my heartstrings, and his confession of love to Emma Goldman was hauntingly beautiful.
2. On the flip side, the worst performance of the night for me went to Laura Griffith, playing Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, as she was NOT in good voice that night. Off pitch, off key, and offensive to my ears, I literally cringed as she sang, and as her commitment to her character was so strong, she practically screamed every note when she sang and it was excruciating. Louder isn’t better, just FYI.
I also really didn’t enjoy Louis Hobson’s John Wilkes Booth. There was an awful accent problem going on…sometimes British, sometimes Southern, sometimes PNW non-accent…it was annoying. Hard to pay attention to the songs sung by Mr. Hobson when you don’t believe his character at all.
3. Vocally the cast was on point (save Ms. Griffith), and there’s one 4 part harmony section sung by Mr. Hobson (Booth), Mr. O’Neill (Czolgosz), Ms. Kassebaum (Moore), and Richard Gray, who played Charles Guiteau. Great vocal number, Ms. Kassebaum stole the scene with her impeccable acting score.
4. With a minimal set, and singular costume choices for the cast, shined a light on the performances, and all elements were just kind of meh.
5. That theatre is entirely too small for the loudness of the gunshots going on, so rather than have a realistic impact, it just added to the overdone/trying-too-hard feel of this performance.
6. You know a show is boring when the biggest reaction from the audience is when Lee Harvey Oswald’s windows came up out of the floor. That theatre magic got more oohs and ahhs than any number performed. And the actors could tell, cuz most of them were just trying too hard to get reactions, which just perpetuated the problem.
7. When a show happens on a night where at 8pm it’s 60 degrees outside, would be great if the theatre would kick on the air conditioning, cuz it was like watching a show from a theatre in hell. It was so effing hot in the balcony, which definitely didn’t help how much I loathed this experience!
Maybe I just saw a bad night of this show, because the friends who told me it was good are theatre lovers, so they should know if it sucks. But for me, this show sucked, was a waste of my time, and I am seriously sad about the two hours of my life I’ll never get back.
On the other hand, good to know that now Assassins is just a show I don’t enjoy. The music is dull, the plot is non-existent, and the ridiculously long drawn out monologues drag you along with them at the pace of molasses in January, that I was literally counting the minutes until I could get out of there! And musically there were many moments that sounded so very familiar, meaning they were basically a poor-man’s Into The Woods when it comes to rhythm and message. And I’d have given anything for a witch to come out and zap them all in the groin just to add a little action and plot depth to this dull show.
I love ACT Theatre, and this is the first time I’ve ever not enjoyed a show there, although it’s also the first time I’ve ever seen a musical there. I have come to know ACT as one of, if not the best straight playhouse in Seattle, and even though I didn’t enjoy Assassins, I’m very much looking forward to seeing Stupid F*cking Bird there in a few weeks. I never avoid a theatre due to a bad production here and there, but I will avoid Assassins in the future no matter what!
And if perhaps I just happened to attend on an off night, well then shame on those actors, because those of us who paid on Thursday should get as quality of a show as those who paid on a Saturday. Get it together, people!
Based on my experience, I’d skip this one if I were you, because clearly I can’t guarantee you’ll get a good show. However, if you do go, and have a totally different experience than I did, I’d love to hear about it.
I give this a should-have-left-in-a-blackout disappointed glare.
Assassins plays through May 8, and ticket and showtime information can be found on ACT’s website.
Ciao for now,