Brisbane Review - Assassins: a high quality production.
By David Wilson
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Based on an original concept by Charles Gilbert Jr
Direction by Isaac Brown
Musical Direction by Ben Richards
Beenleigh Theatre group
Season runs until 14 October
The Crete Street Theatre
Assassins, one of Stephen Sondheim’s lesser known musicals, is in many ways a commentary on the frailty of the American Dream. This one-act production by Beenleigh Theatre Group excellently captured the dark themes, balancing them very well with some very funny moments.
The premise of is as clever as it is unique - nine historical figures from different eras who attempted to assassinate the President of the United States (successfully or otherwise) are assembled in a carnival-like shooting gallery in an exploration of the ideals of the nation. Through this ‘community of assassins’, the audience views the American Dream from the perspective of those it has failed. Heavy themes indeed, but very well handled by a talented director and a consistently strong cast.
Isaac Brown has done a wonderful job directing Assassins. They brought all of their stage experience to the direction of this production, resulting in a very confident performance by the entire cast - something not always the case with independent and community theatre. Against a simple yet dramatic set, Brown employed the full stage to great effect, with clever use of lighting and pros, and an obvious (and successful) focus on engaging the audience throughout.
Michael Ware as The Proprietor was excellent, with his deep versatility being used to great effect. His characterisation was strong, and he presented a nuanced Uncle Sam type role comfortably, with the opening number “Everybody’s Got the Right” really established the footing for a great show.
Adam Goodall played the ‘everyman’ Balladeer to perfection. He made the narrator-style role look casual and effortless, complemented by his easy vocal style and natural interaction with the cast. His range as an actor was well showcased when playing the desperate role of Lee Harvey Oswald.
The portrayal of John Wilkes Booth, the so-called “leader of the Assassins”, by Michael Lewis was outstanding. His gravitas was matched only by his excellent vocals, and his balance of charm and underlying menace was just right.
Mark James was perfectly cast as the eccentric Charles Guiteau which allowed him to showcase his strong vocals, characterisation, physicality and comedic abilities. In particular, his performance of “I’m Going to The Lordy/The Ballad of Guiteau” with Goodall was a highlight.
Matt Bennet did an excellent job of capturing the angry desperation caused by societal injustice and class inequality felt by his character Leon Czolgosz. His physicality was excellent, and he shone in the softer moments interacting with the character of Emma Goldman.
Andrew Kassab did a great job portraying the weak-stomached “American Nothing” Giuseppe Zangara. His characterisation was strong, as was his timing and physicality, particularly in the execution scene.
Amelia Burton as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Alison Pattinson as Sara Jane Moore shone brightest when sharing the stage together, and their funnier moments successfully lifted the mood o the production when needed.
Burton was also excellent in “Unworthy Of Your Love”, a duet with Nicholas Hargreaves as John Hinckley, which perfectly captured their achingly desperate need for attention. Both Burton and Hargreaves did an excellent job of fully embracing the characterisation without drifting into caricature.
Dan Konstantinos was an audience favourite as the Santa Claus suit wearing, angry, disgruntled, celebrity obsessed would-be Richard Nixon assassin Samuel Byck. His lengthy monologue recordings to the rich and famous, balancing a desperate disillusionment with humour, were as well delivered as they were well received by the audience.
The main cast also comprised Addison Kallio who did a wonderful job as Billy, supported by a very strong Featured Ensemble, each of whom performed their varied roles with high quality and confidence.
And finally, it was wonderful to see the full orchestra visible on stage throughout the entire performance. Ben Richards expertly led the talented group, with their quality and versatility obvious given the musical demands of the different eras.
I thoroughly enjoyed Assassins by Beenleigh Theatre group and I encourage you to see this high quality production.