Monday, December 9

Kill a prez,

Kill a prez,

win a prize!

Sondheim’s unusual musical comedy ‘Assassins’ misses mark too
many times

By Jennifer Richmond

Daily Bruin Staff

Steven Sondheim has a way of making the most insane people seem
sane. He started with Mr. Todd of his horrific "Sweeney Todd" and
continues with all the murderers of his bizarre "Assassins."

Following all of history’s assassins and would-be assassins,
Sondheim’s play makes a point of selling presidential assassination
from the beginning.

Opening with a poorly choreographed "Everybody’s Got the Right,"
the cast makes it known how they feel and why the president
deserves to be shot. After all, "If you shoot the president, you
win a prize." It’s a game. And the prize is usually death as shown
in the most gruesome terms.

The first case comes when the father of assassinators, John
Wilkes Booth (Patrick Cassidy), shoots himself rather than give
himself up for the murder of Abraham Lincoln. But the heart-felt
ballad he sings before he goes evokes a feeling of pity and sorrow
that this man was simply seen as a vicious maniac rather than a man
who only wanted to be heard.

But just because Booth kills himself doesn’t mean that’s the
last we see of him. In another moving scene much later in the
musical, Sondheim gives the mystery of the JFK assassination a new
twist. He blames Booth for Oswald’s decision to kill the president
and not some government scheme.

Booth explains to Oswald that if he commits suicide as he
originally intended, no one will remember him; but if he kills
Kennedy everyone will know who he is. His name will go down in
history; after all, it’s Oswald who gave John Hinckley, the
almost-assassin of President Ronald Reagan, the idea to kill the
president. Seeing the logic and having all the other assassins
urging him on, Oswald realizes he has no choice but to shoot.

Although we never see Oswald’s death by Jack Ruby, we get a
clear show of both Giuseppe Zangara’s (Gary Imhoff) and Charles
Julius Guiteau’s (Alan Safier) death sentences.

Zangara is gruesomely fried in the electric chair while innocent
by-standers explain with glee how they saved FDR from Zangara’s
deadly shot. And Guiteau gets a noose around his neck as he sings
"I am going to the Lordy" with a smile and leg kicks worthy of a
Las Vegas stage show.

Safier’s portrayal of Guiteau makes this scene one of the
funnier in the production. While he tends to ham things up a bit at
times, most of the scene perfectly proves how insane Guiteau was.
He’s decided that if President James A. Garfield won’t make him
ambassador to France, then Garfield doesn’t deserve to be
president. His logic makes total sense to him and provides for a
wonderfully funny number that gets people humming.

Another rich scene comes without song and dance later on. It
takes place between Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Bridget Hoffman) and
Sarah Jane Moore (Jean Kauffman).

Although the two attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford
on different days in real life, Sondheim decides to save time and
have the two work together as a team. But two bumbling fools can’t
kill a president any better than one bumbling fool.

Moore can’t aim to save her life as is proven by the death of
her dog as the scene opens and Fromme is too caught up in educating
Moore to realize her gun is empty.

The hysterics really begin when Moore drops her bullets and Ford
willingly helps collect them. It still doesn’t matter that he is at
point blank range ­ the two assassins are way too inept to do
anything. So, as a last hysterical resort Moore throws a handful of
bullets at him while shouting "Bang!"

It’s too bad that these funny scenes are so few and far between.
The horror brought with "How I Saved Roosevelt" turns stomachs, and
the redundant and boring "Something Just Broke" feels like an extra
song that’s really saying "In case you still don’t get what I’m
trying to say, here it is again." This song, more than any others,
is a serious annoyance rather than a joyful addition. But let’s not
kill Sondheim just yet ­ it’s only one little mistake.

STAGE: "Assassins." Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book
by John Weidman. Directed by Peter Ellenstein. Starring Patrick
Cassidy, Alan Safier, Bridget Hoffman and Jean Kauffman. Running
through April 23 at the Los Angeles Theater Center. Performing
Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. with matinees
on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. TIX: $10-$39. For more info call
(213) 466-1767.

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