Assassins: A Review

By Christopher Heide

Assassins is a sleek, majestic, bombastic show, executed by the 5th Ave Theatre and ACT Theatre.  It’s an imaginative retelling of the handful of assassins who have attempted to or have succeeded in killing an American president.  It’s a show with an inventive take on history and a drastic departure form the typical fare normally seen in musical theatre. This is not the typical, boy-meets-girl type of show.  It is peppered with adult language and rife with dark motifs and themes. This Steven Sondheim creation was gifted with numerous Tony Awards when it finally hit Broadway last decade.

Unfortunately, the show falls short in its execution. Very few of the songs are particularly memorably. Assassins lacks a big show stopping number, something that will leave audiences stunned once the show is finished. The lack of an intermission also makes it feel like the show considerably drags during its back-half. The idea of murder, espionage and revenge always make for great story telling elements, but only if executed properly. The problem here is not necessarily with the book- it is how the book is interpreted during production.

Particularly weak elements included Matt Wolfe as attempted Richard Nixon assassin, Samuel Byck. Wolfe is given two length monologues during the run of the show, which only serve to bring the show to a painful halt. Literally, Wolfe was unable to keep my attention during the contrived, overwrought monologues. Stylistically, they did not serve to drive the main plot of the show and did very little to aid the narrative flow.

Sarah Jane Moore (Kendra Kassebaum, left) and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Laura Griffith) in Assassins, a co-production presented at ACT - A Contemporary Theatre.

There were a few standouts in this show.  The female cast member were particularly magnificent. Both displayed powerhouse vocals, as well as shrewd comedic timing. Kendra Kassebaum, as Sara Jane Moore and Laura Griffith, as Squeaky Fromme, hit their marks exceptionally well, juggling both comedic outlandishness and vulnerability at the same time.

Assassins is not a bad show by any means. A great deal of the show is energetic and frenetic. Overall, it’s all just a bit underwhelming. It's a good, not great, production. I applaud the Seattle theater community for continuing to bring such a variety of rich, complex shows to the local stages.