THIS BAM PRODUCTION FINALLY LETS
THESE ‘ASSASSINS’ WIN THEIR PRIZE
THE UPSIDE-DOWN VERSION OF THE AMERICAN DREAM
This is a perfect Election postseason for a little Sondheim political power. It sets the tone for the first 100 days in Washington “Everybody's Got The Right To Their dreams”. Bay Area Musicals continues their second season with the dark and sharp ASSASSINS at Alcazar Theatre through March 18th. Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman. ASSASSINS was one of the highlights of the 1990 musical season. It's a dark, moving and disturbing topic that changed the political feel of Broadway. BAM headed by Artistic Director Matthew McCoy has produced a superb view of this musical were icons are shot dead and Sondheim's songs are brilliant bringing to life the corruption of history.
Director Daren A.C. Carollo says “In the wake of the recent election, it feels symbolic to present Assassins as Bay Area Musicals' first Stephen Sondheim piece. The prolific writer is known for giving the most complex characters voices we would never hear otherwise. Sondheim's ability to twist music and lyrics into the psyche of these murderous killers, or soon to be killers, throughout America's history is what makes this show one of the most controversial ever written.” This is Sondheim’s controversial musical that started in the 90’s but took 14 years to get to Broadway and scored five Tony's. My local favorite Director the keen Carollo knows that few companies produce this show, he has cast a brilliant company of bay area talent and equipped them with some very poignant guns.
Director Carollo's talented, magnetic cast of 14 actors gives this controversial musical respect and power to Stephen Sondheim's words. The bold, compelling Eric Neiman as the whiteface clown Proprietor opens the hundred minute musical with “Everybody’s Got The Right” as he passes out guns to some of the cast members. Neiman is the first voice to set the tone of the shooting gallery torn American flag on a wonderful set designed by Carollo and Clay David.
ASSASSINS looks at the lives of the nine people who assassinated or attempted to kill American presidents. It never attempts to to make them heroes or monsters; instead it explores a fascinating world where the killers become famous, but are left to ask, "Where's my prize" seeking love and attention, Sondheim creates these real people into likable characters who can't resist the urge to make a statement even though they know their actions will end their lives.
Stephen Sondheim’s score is staggering in depth and his “The Ballad of Booth” performed by the superb Derrick Silva as Booth and the powerhouse Sage Georgevitch-Castellanos as the Balladeer is haunting and heartbreaking. Castellanos lyrical depth, as the good o’ boy, acoustic guitar in hand, young clean cut narrator guides us as through these dark American moments.
Sondheim explores many styles of music as in “Unworthy of Your Love” featuring the serious Zac Schuman as John Hinckley and the quirky, Kelli Schultz, as Squeaky Fromme. The music styles range from folk-rock, blues to vaudeville "The Ballad of Guiteau" boldly sung by Castellanos who represents the American dream, clearly has one of the best voices in this cast. He is fully realised and has a passionate stage presence alongside the terrific Peter Budinger as Charles Guiteau.
A spellbinding plus in the production is the standout singers in the cast, and their acting transcends their strong voices. “How I Saved Roosevelt” featuring the cast, music director, Jon Gallo, brings out their best, including Terrence McLaughlin as Giuseppe Zangara. Director Carollo kept the musical as dramatic and at times humorous as his actors enter to tell their stories of hate, sadness and need. The attention-grabbing clown-faced Proprietor played by the fearsome Eric Neiman as he watches over the assassinations with his joker smile is a clever move by Carollo that brings Sondheim touch of horror to american history’s worst moments.
Carollo’s production benefits from its setting on a vast set of that reminds us of a carnival of clowns, that includes frames of lights crafted by Clay David. The lighting design becomes a character in the dark musical, and Ryan Weibei’s design of pools of light and shadows works well to highlight some of the horror of each assassins story. The set puts the audience point blank to these killers and upfront to political mayhem.
This cast of killers is convincing in conveying their insanity, fear, loneliness, and madness. Weidman's book moves from a 1933 attempt on FDR's life to the 1881 killing of James Garfield, all in an attempt to show what binds this bizarre group of people and misfired killers together. Their motives from politics to personal matters to insanity form Sondheim's and Weidman's dark important theme.
Carollo gets strong performances from his cast, Silva is intense as Booth, whose rage at how his country was torn apart does not end even after he kills Lincoln, the man he holds responsible. The charismatic DC Scarpelli is also excellent as Leon Czolgosz whose radical politics drive him to kill William McKinley. Scarpelli is pitch perfect in “The Gun Song” along with Silva, Budinger and the dynamic Jessica Fisher.
There are also some terrific comic performances: The elegant Peter Budinger as the dapper dressed Charles Guiteau who kills Garfield, then does a morbid dance as he swings from the gallows; Jessica Fisher is hilarious as the scatterbrained Sara Jane Moore, whose attempt to kill Gerald Ford goes awry; and the over the top Santa dressed, John Brown, as the loudmouth, lunatic Sam Byck, whose effort to kill Nixon failed in a big way - like everything else he did in his life. Gary M. Giurbino, Rebecca Davis, and Nicole Frydman, as Emma Goldman anarchist who was part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's failed assassination attempt, and the young talented Maximilian Wix who are all impressive.
All of the assassins appear before Lee Harvey Oswald authentically played by Castellanos transformation to a Dallas killer. The company settles in the Texas School Book Depository, urging him to pull the trigger: "Without you, we're just footnotes in a history book - with you, we're a force of history." In Sondheim's masterful song "Something Just Broke," as everyday citizens react to the shock of the assassinations, we see the zapruder film and shooting of JFK; but when the news breaks that "The President is dead," these ordinary Americans are left alone to struggle with their overwhelming grief and tales of where they were at the time of Kennedy's death.
The production team for ASSASSINS includes Mathew McCoy’s polished choreography that adds that vaudeville carnival spirit an eerie atham to a musical about killers. The dramatic pools for light and shadows with a styished feel of Weible lighting design. Local favorite Brooke Jennings and Richard Gutierrez costumes are authentic and of course her shabby, stinky Santa suit for Byck is classic but the Proprietor is a scene stealer. The 60’s look she creates for Squeaky and Moore - the two women killers, is classic detail to the era. The wigs for the women are fitting and Julie Indelicato's sound design is full of gun shots and rich urban sounds. Properities Designer, Devon LaBelle, had the challenge of finding all the guns for the musical that range from the Dallas rifle and handguns as real as they come. Music director Jon Gallo’s striking off stage seven member band fit the carnival like feeling.
"There's Another National Anthem, folks. For those who never win ..for the ones who might have been." This could be a line from a Trump election ad yet Sondheim, and Weidman wrote it for this musical. They are pursuing an upside-down version of the American Dream. BAM’s stunning ASSASSINS is the perfect musical for this first 100 days of our new administration and Daren A.C. Carollo has challenged his cast, and they have successfully recreated some of history's darkest moments and given four star justice to Mr Sondheim. Do not miss this production, it is a brilliant thought provoking musical. Next up at Bay Area Musicals is a complete reverse, a family musical SEUSSICAL - it opens July 8th.
Bay Area Musicals Presents
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by John Weidman,
Directed by Daren A.C. Carollo,
Music Director Jon Gallo
Choreographer Matthew McCoy
Through – March 18, 201
650 Geary Street, San Francisco
Running time 1 hour 40 minutes - no intermission
Tickets are available online at
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/events/1212499965532467/
Photos by Ben Krantz
Assassins features an ensemble of 14 of the best performers from throughout the Bay Area. They are: Jessica Fisher (Sara Jane Moore), DC Scarpelli (Leon Czologsz), John Brown (Samuel Byck), Derrick Silva (John Wilkes Booth), Kelli Schultz (Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme), Zac Schuman (John Hinkley), Sage G.C. (Balladeer/Oswald), Eric Neiman (The Proprietor/Ensemble), Terrence Mclaughlin (Giuseppe Zangara), Peter Budinger (Chales Guiteau), Rebecca Davis (Housewife/Ensemble), Gary M. Giurbino(Ensemble), and Maximilian Wix (Boy).
Directed by Daren A.C. Carollo, the creative team for Assassins also includes choreographer Matthew McCoy, music director Jon Gallo, associate director Ryan Weilble, assistant stage manager Wesley Rou, costume designer Brooke Jennings, sound designer Julie Indelicato, and prop designer Devon Labelle.