The second show that should without a doubt transfer to the West End is The Assassins.
The Assassins was a very high profile production in London. The show ran from 21st November 2014 to 7th March 2015. It is the work of Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and John Weidman (dialogue), portraying all the successful and attempted assassinations of American presidents, linking their stories in a rampage of desire for attention, fame and glory. The historic storyline intrigued me.
The production was directed by Jamie Lloyd. The set was inspired: an abandoned fairground kind of look, eerie lighting, and the carousel playing Hail to the Chief at the beginning and end to bring the show in a loop was inspired.
The Menier Chocolate Factory is an excellent theatre. The restaurant at the front is very nice for a pre-theatre meal. The bar area is a little small for the number of the people and would be better with a bit more seating, but drinks are reasonably priced so can’t complain. The merchandise includes reasonably priced programmes and posters, and I really do commend the beautifully designed programmes from this theatre – no advertising, just information which gives a clean, crisp programme that makes a great memento. The theatre itself was very small and intimate with an electric atmosphere.
This was not only a star-studded cast but a very experienced one – very exciting.
Aaron Tveit (Les Miserables (film), Graceland (TV), Rent (Broadway)) as John Wilkes Booth was outstanding. He left a month before the end as a result of a change in schedule for his next commitment – Graceland, the TV series. I was lucky enough to see Michael Xavier (Love Story, Into The Woods) in the role, who took over from Tveit, and both of them were excellent. I preferred Xavier and his rendition of ‘Ballad of Booth’ had me in tears.
Catherine Tate (Doctor Who, Nativity 3) as Sarah Jane Moore plays a very convincing dizzy, Southern attempted assassin and teams up with Carly Bawden as Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme (My Fair Lady, Pippin, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) to assassinate Gerald Ford. Their plan failed and they ended up comically throwing bullets at the President. Carly plays an excellent Squeaky with an incredible performance of ‘Unworthy of your Love’ with Harry Morrison (Kiss me Kate, Oliver!, The Wizard of Oz) as John Hinckley Jr (attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan). The song uses light and shade to incredible effect.
Stewart Clarke (Ghost, Loserville) as Giuseppe Zangara, plays an Italian immigrant who attempted to assassinate Franklin D Roosevelt. Clarke gave a wonderfully demented performance of the assassin in the musical number ‘How I Saved Roosevelt’.
Andy Nyman (Abigail’s Party, Ghost Stories) was cast as Charles Guiteau who assassinated James Garfield to promote the sale of his book and wanted to be ambassador to France. I also saw Adam Bayjou, the understudy, (The Full Monty, Love Story) in the role who was also excellent and both gave a moving performance of ‘Ballad of Guiteau’.
David Roberts (Ghost, Mamma Mia, Aspects of Love) plays Leon Czolgosz who assassinates William McKinley. The ‘Gun Song’ is one of my favourite songs from the show. Roberts plays the role well, conveying love of Emma Goldman (a political activist), played by Melle Stewart (Kiss Me Kate, Jekyll and Hyde, Mamma Mia), and a last resort ‘I have no other opportunities, I’ll kill a President’ motive.
Simon Lipkin (Rock of Ages, I Can’t Sing, As You Like It) as The Proprietor and Jamie Parker (Guys and Dolls, Proof) as The Balladeer were the key parts of the whole production, the puppet-masters by engineering and pulling the strings. In the opening scene, The Proprietor goads and entices the assassins, singing ‘Everybody’s got the Right to be Happy’, as he sells them guns. The Balladeer represents Americana and says that it’s not the answer, but is ultimately corrupted as Parker transforms from Balladeer to that most famous of all assassins, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Dropping a shower of red confetti on the stage to close the show gave an outstanding, very dramatic effect, signifying blood of the Presidents and eternal glory for the assassins. The lights faded, an eerie silence prevailed, before the lights then revealed the cast pointing guns into the audience – what a tense finale to a spectacular piece of theatre!
All in all, it was a stellar production with a truly outstanding cast. It is one the most intense pieces of theatre I have ever seen and the storyline is interesting and clever. The whole thing ran like clockwork. It is a very serious show but there are little pieces of humour here and there (albeit dark humour) and it uses light and shade to extraordinary effect. It all has a very powerful message behind it and I don’t think there’s any other show quite like it, nor will there ever will be. Sondheim, Weidham, I salute you.
I’m so hoping for a transfer. After press night, the production was completely sold out for the entire run and I know so many people didn’t get tickets (couldn’t) and were watching the website for cancelations. A transfer would allow the people who missed out to see it and others to witness the dark, enticing magic once again. I want to hear the other national anthem playing again…
The Assassins is one of five nominees for the Radio 2 Audience Award for the Best Musical. Vote at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/210GVVk18KTFtxXWH5XghKR/vote-for-the-radio-2-audience-award-for-best-musical