Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim can count among his prolific output such successful and diverse works as gang warfare in West Side Story, Roman revels in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, and macabre Victorian murder in Sweeney Todd, writes Tony Spittles.
So, it’s a big ‘yes’ vote for Nottingham Playhouse, in conjunction with the Newbury-based Watermill Theatre, to give a British premiere to Sondheim’s 1990 vaudeville-style show Assassins, now on at the Playhouse until Saturday, November 16.
This musical theatre gem has survived its transatlantic crossing and seems even more potent and apt than at its debut 30 years as ago as it explores and probes the power of the President, the lure of celebrity and the underbelly of the American Dream, looking at why individuals reach for a gun when they feel their voice can’t be heard.
Against the backdrop of an inventive bar room-style set by designer Simon Kenny, director Bill Buckhurst starts this history lesson in top gear with President Abraham Lincoln being shot by John Wilkes Booth (Alex Mugnaioni) in 1865, the first of four presidents to be dispatched from office, all by gunshot.
This was the fate that befell James A. Garfield in 1881, William McKinley in 1901 and more recently John F. Kennedy whose Dallas killing in 1963 sees Sondheim getting Wilkes inveigling JFK’s murderer, Lee Harvey Oswald (Ned Rudkins-Stow), to fire the fatal shot.
This clever take on real-life events was given further impact by the voices of the assassins, successful and failed, the most powerful being shown by red-garbed, beer drinking Samuel Byck (Steve Simmons) whose ranting monologue was one of the highlights of this must-see production, which runs for 10 minutes short of two hours.
Tickets range from £8.50 to £45, and for further details of this production - featuring a talented, ensemble cast who are as deft in voice, spoken and sung, as they are on an array of musical instruments or on their feet - can be obtained on the Nottingham Playhouse box office on 0115 9419419, or click here.
Photo credit: Richard Davenport/The Other Richard