ANOTHER NATIONAL ANTHEM, AND IT ROCKS
No, I'm not talking about Thunder Road by The Boss- although I'd love to hear that sung before baseball games and all that. I'm referring to one of the many thrilling, catchy, funny, smart songs featured in Stephen Sondheim & John Weidman's Assassins- currently having a stellar production at the Fine Arts Center in Colorado Springs.
I have wanted to see this show since it's first inception at Playwrights Horizons many moons ago. I was living in NYC back then, and tried several times to get in, but it was always sold out. I remember one night standing outside in the snow, watching the people in the lobby getting ready to go in. One of those memories that sticks for some reason. That was over twenty years ago. Both the show and I have grown older and changed- and both, I think, for the better.
The show is a sort of Twilight Zone/Pirandello like piece about a group of Americans from different parts of history who are either outcast, delusional, or just plain crazy. (for more info and a plot summary, go here) Some are known to all of us, like Lee Harvey Oswald or John Wilkes Boothe. Others are minor foot notes of history, like Charles Guiteau or Giuseppe Zangara. As portrayed in this production, they are all human beings worth observing. Their story is at times amusing, at times tragic, and throughout the show, thanks to the direction of Scott Levy and a uniformly talented cast, spell-binding.
The American Dream, it turns out, doesn't really work for everyone. These days, it seems like 99% of us are either working at jobs we don't like all that much for people we either don't know or don't like, or aren't working at all. The land with streets of gold where anyone with enough pluck can pull themselves up by their bootstraps seems to have gone the way of the Dodo. What to do? Well, some unfortunates, the Willy Loman's of the world, famously took matters into their own hands. And thereby hangs a tale.
I don't really want to say more about what happens in the show, because I want you to go see it. That's right- you. If you are anywhere near Colorado- get off of your couch, get in your car, and head to the Springs. You won't be sorry. It's a beautiful drive. The theatre is gorgeous, and has it's own restaurant that's swanky and Art Deco and cool. And the show is a thought provoking, funny, toe tapping phantasmagoria guaranteed to cure what ails you. The cast includes Tom Auclair as Samuel Byck, and he is at once hilarious and pathetic as a guy who makes tapes recordings for various famous people while plotting to kill Dick Nixon. Miriam Roth Ballard as Sara Jane Moore and Cailin Doran as Squeaky Fromme show us two sides of the feminine mystique that are sweetly insane and frighteningly familiar. Ken Robinson, as Giuseppe Zangara, has a voice that's unreal it's so pretty. And there's an image of him strapped in the electric chair that will stay with you long after the final bow. Jordan Leigh, as Charles Guiteau, is a freak of nature- hilarious, scary, bursting with energy. He takes the part and runs with it. "The Ballad of Guiteau", his big number in act two, is easily the best piece of musical theatre I have seen in years. As directed by Levy and perfectly executed by Leigh and Marco Robinson, who plays the Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald, it freaked me out. In the good way. Like I forgot where I was and who I was and just floated along with what was happening on stage. Ben Bashinski makes a sort of working class hero out of Czolgosz, and Brantely Scott Haines really comes across like a whacko as John Hinkley. Jason Lythgoe is excellent as the ridiculously egotistical John Wilkes Boothe, and the afore mentioned Marco Robinson rocks the house whenever he's on stage. The ensemble- Jonathan Eberhardt, Vania Falen, Max Ferguson, Matthew Newton, and Halee Towne, are uniformly excellent, and their number "Something Just Broke", which was added to the play after it's initial run in NYC, is one of the highlights of the show. The orchestra, led by Roberta Jacyshyn, is freakin' amazing, and the design team of Christopher L. Sheley doing the scenery, Janson Fangio doing the costumes, and Jonathan Spencer, is superb.
Did I mention I really liked the show? A lot? Good. Now go see the show. It's important theatre about big ideas, and might make you think twice next time you pass a member of the Tea Party dressed up like Paul Revere or someone from the Occupy Wall Street movement playing hackey sack, about the American Dream, where it's gone, and how people react when they think something ain't right.
For info on tickets, how to get there, and all that, go here.