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Assassins (Bump In)

Assassins is among Sondheim's most accessible scores, populated as it is with varied musical pastiches. It's one of the few Sondheim CDs I liked on first listen contrary to the "third time's the charm" rule that's been my experience. The subject matter however must be one of the most off-putting to the general theatre going public, now more so than ever. (Plans for a Broadway production in 2001 were cancelled after September 11 though the show was staged there last year to much acclaim and five Tony awards.)

Curiously, this amateur production left out "Something just broke", the piece Sondheim wrote for the show's London premiere and which has been part of the text ever since.

Director Tom Sweeney and set designer Simon Greer chose to break up the Zenith Theatre's very small, circular stage with a large raised platform. Unfortunately this constricted movement and blocking and made scene changes more awkward than they could have been.

The acting, for amateur theatre, was generally competent but the quality of the singing was mixed. Some of the cast had very good voices, though none of the principals were completely comfortable with the upper range of their scores. (The musical experience wasn't helped by a sloppy trumpeteer in the band either.)

Michael Lewis had the critical role of John Wilkes Booth. Booth needs to have a perverted but very real sense of nobility and patriotism. He needs to be established as a man passionate in his convictions in the early barn scene. Lewis (who I note from the bio runs Bump In Productions) wasn't able to convey this, substituting scowls and tears (Christensen-like) for intensity. He was better in the later, calmer scenes but I never felt he was inhabiting the role, merely playing at it.

Matt Reynolds (Guiteau) came closest to having the required presence for Booth, helped by good acting (balancing the comic and threatening aspects of Guiteau's madness well) and a resonant bass baritone voice. James Stevenson as the Balladeer and doubling as Oswald has a robust singing voice and came across as a natural actor in the final sequence. Joy Sweeney as Sara Jane Moore didn't sing particularly well but she had a great intensity and comic delivery. Most of the rest of the cast were also able to convey the intensity intrinsic to their characters.

None more so than Warren Blood who doesn't get to sing much but has two extended monologues which worked very well. His Brooklyn-salted Byck was a mixture generous in rage, humour and - somewhat unexpectedly - despair. It was I think the intensity of Byck's second monologue leading into "Another National Anthem" that made that musical number the most successful one of the night. At that moment, for me, it was Byck, not Booth, who assumed leadership of the assassins.

(I'm always pleased when songs which don't work for me on CD come alive on stage... other examples of this were "Without You" in Rent and "Making a Home" from Falsettos.)


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While the Bump In production of Assassins couldn't be considered to be a great success (even judged by amateur standards) the train ride to the theatre did produce this little scratching. [Read More]

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