10/19/2014

Fathom Events' "Nozze di Figaro": One Made in Heaven

          HD Broadcast of 10/18/14; Encore HD Broadcast on Weds. October 22  at 6:30pm



Ildar Abdrazakov & Marlis Petersen in "Marriage of Figaro"
(photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera)

After a shaky summer of union contract negotiations that threatened to close down the entire season, with the issues finally resolved, the Metropolitan Opera began its scheduled operas last month with its production of Mozart’s wondrous “Marriage of Figaro”. It was also the first Live-in-HD broadcast in a movie theater near you. It was well received at the opening as well as this simulcast performance. Set in an 18th century Seville manor house during the 1930’s, the stars were all aligned in the operatic heavens as the conducting and orchestral playing, the singing and acting by the principals and the chorus, and the physical production, all combined to create a truly effervescent experience. It would be hard to judge who was having the greater time, the worldly performers or their worldwide audience. On hand as the articulate broadcast host was the always charming Renée Fleming. The production was the work of British Director Sir Richard Eyre. The Metropolian Orchestra was led by Music Director James Levine after his lengthy period coping with health issues. (The opening night was his first in four years). Yet, as is often the case, once again the star of the proceedings (aided and abetted by his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte) was unquestionably Mozart.

As Levine conducted the orchestra in Mozart’s sublimely gorgeous music, a pantomime on stage introduced the principal characters of the opera with the clever use of a revolving stage. This lively and energetic cast included the accomplished bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov (seen in the title role of the Met’s “Prince Igor” last season) as the valet Figaro and the beautifully-voiced soprano Marlis Petersen as his bride Susanna (a much earthier rendition than is typical); both were comic superstars in this work. Also featured were Peter Mattei in gorgeous voice as their philandering Count Almaviva and equally impressive soprano Amanda Majeski as his long-suffering Countess. Also in the cast were mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, wonderful as the hormonally frisky pageboy Cherubino, bass-baritone John Del Carlo as the ever pompous Doctor Bartolo, and mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer as his former housekeeper Marcellina. (The relationship of Bartolo and Marcellina to Figaro provides the sort of twist that Gilbert and Sullivan would later satirize). The rest of the cast included Greg Fedderly as Don Basilio, Philip Cokorinos as Antonio, a radiant Ying Fang as Barbarina and Scott Scully as Don Curzio. The all-important expert HD Direction was by Gary Halvorson, with a revolving Set Design and lovely Costume Design, both by Rob Howell; the costumes were universally praised, and justifiably so, but the sets were criticized for overpowering the proceedings at the Met, though this wasn’t often the case in the HD broadcast at all. The too-dim Lighting Design was by Paule Constable and the minimal Choreography by Sara Erde.

The plot defies concise synopsis, so suffice it to say that there are some romantic complications for no fewer than four couples, all resolved happily by the final curtain. It is Mozart at his wickedly funniest and musically most complex. In the end, after not a few disguises and impersonations, all ends relatively well and reasonably sane. And that’s exactly what we hope for in a marriage, isn't it?

Nathan Hale Schoolhouse: Elementary


Nathan Hale Schoolhouse in New London, CT
Nathan Hale, considered the state hero of Connecticut, taught for two years in a small red schoolhouse in New London. Thought it’s been moved several times, it now stands in a prominent place in the area of the redeveloping waterfront of the city. Having graduated at the age of eighteen from Yale University, and briefly suffered what he described as the “remote life in the wilderness” in nearby Moodus, he took over the teaching job at what was then the Union Grammar School, from 1774 to 1775. Subsequently enlisting in the fight for independence in the American Revolution as a Captain, he volunteered to become a spy against the British troops who had captured Long Island.

The schoolhouse is of interest on several levels, literally, as it has the unique distinction of being a two-story building with many of its architectural elements still visible. Open in season from May to October (and Wednesday through Sunday only), a visit can be combined with the other extant Nathan Hale Schoolhouse in nearby East Haddam (home of the famed Goodspeed Opera House for the last fifty years). As most schoolchildren learn, Hale’s famous last words in September 1776, before he was hanged as a spy (at the tender age of twenty-one) by the British, are said to be: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”.

10/16/2014

Goodspeed's "Holiday Inn": Check-In With Reservations


"Easter Parade" with the cast of  Irving Berlin's "Holiday Inn" 
(photo: Diane Sobolewski)
 
There’s a new star in the theatrical firmament, and his name is Irving Berlin. Well, maybe not exactly new, but certainly renewed, thanks to the current production of “Holiday Inn” at Goodspeed Opera House. For devotees of the classical film musical, the plot and many of the songs will be familiar. This production, with a book attributed to Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, (also directed by Greenberg), follows the plot of the film closely, with some added humor and characters. It’s 1946, and the “jewel box” stage of Goodspeed’s theatre itself becomes the inn, in the fictional town of Midville, CT. As Greenberg has said elsewhere, it’s about “ambition and its impact on friendship, reality vs. its reflection on screen, and the value of personal gumption.” Most importantly, he stressed, it “celebrates show business and joys of live performance.” The score includes the melodic Irving Berlin songs from the film, (such as “Happy Holiday” and “Easter Parade”), as well as other favorites that audiences will recall from other sources. At the opening night, it was obviously a huge hit, with the audience dancing in the aisles (some quite literally), and there was joy in Midville.

The cast was pluperfect, especially the leads, the singer/composer Jim (Tally Sessions), his dancing rival Ted (Noah Racey) and the you’re-going-out-there-a-nobody-but-coming-back-as-a-star Linda (Patti Murin), as well as the second banana Lila (Hayley Podschun) and “handyman” Louise (Susan Mosher, as a sort of gay Thelma Ritter, the only idea that seems ahead of its time). Excellent support is provided by talent agent Danny (Danny Rutigliano) and young Charlie (Noah Marlowe). The large ensemble, every one of them just wonderful especially with respect to their dancing, includes Alissa Alter, Abby Church, Darien Crago, Caley Crawford, Jeremiah Ginn, Juliane Godfrey, Laura Harrison, Bryan Thomas Hunt, Charles MacEachern, Karl Skyler Urban, Amy Van Norstrand, and John T. Wolfe. The expert Musical Direction is by Michael O’Flaherty, with versatile Scenic Design by Anna Louizos, colorful Costume Design by Alejo Vietti (with some hilarious Easter hats), fine Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter and Sound Design by Jay Hilton, as well as Wig and Hair Design by Mark Adam Rampmeyer. The Choreography by Denis Jones is infectious.

One might have some reservations, however. As with other jukebox musicals, there are some odd inclusions shoehorned into the score without much regard for relevance. Some are hopelessly sentimental (“Be Careful, It’s My Heart”) and unsubtle (“Song of Freedom”), but then there are such gems and chestnuts like “White Christmas”, and reminders of precisely why Berlin’s music endures, such as the beautifully plaintive “What’ll I Do”. It’s not unlike a generous holiday dinner in which there are too many dishes leading to a feeling of being overstuffed. With close to three dozen songs including reprises, this would be easy to correct; sometimes less is truly more.

Your appreciation for this version of “Holiday Inn” will largely depend on your attitude toward the film musicals of the 30’s and 40’s, as this work (except for a few topical references and that ‘handyman” role) is amazingly true to the period, in both the good and bad sense. It has just about every convention of the genre intact, as though it truly had been written and assembled in the 40’s. Greenberg has also said that the story is about “the beauty of being true to yourself, living simply and…a great big party. And isn’t that what holidays are all about?” At this “Holiday Inn”, indeed they are.


10/12/2014

Fathom Events: the Met's Scottish Opera


Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth in "Macbeth"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)

The Metropolitan Opera’s current HD broadcast season began with a showing of its modern dress 2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth”, hosted by mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili (known throughout the opera world, including the Met, for her “Carmen”). This production starred Baritone Željko Lucic in the title role, who also sang the role when the production was premiered, and soprano Anna Netrebko as his consort. It was a resounding success, easily one of the most impressive such broadcasts in their history, and quite possibly the best ever, largely in part to a daring choice of a role by one of the principals.

The story is no doubt familiar to opera buffs as well as Shakespeare fans. On the moors of Scotland, Macbeth (the powerfully-voiced Lucic) and Banquo (the always dependably impressive bass René Pape) encounter witches who address Macbeth as King of Scotland, and prophesy that Banquo will be the father of kings, then promptly disappear. Then, the current King Duncan (Raymond Renault) makes Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth (the luminescent Anna Netrebko) determines Duncan must be killed. Macbeth envisions the infamous dagger before him and does the deed. Banquo and the noble Macduff (the beautifully nuanced tenor Joseph Calleja) discover the murder, while the Macbeths feign horror. Macbeth is crowned King of Scotland, while Duncan’s son Malcolm (Noah Baetge) flees. Macbeth, fearing the prophecy about Banquo, arranges to kill him and his son Fleance (Moritz Linn); Banquo is slain but Fleance escapes. As Lady Macbeth sings a drinking song, Macbeth drinks in the news about Banquo’s death, while haunted by a vision of an accusing Banquo at a banquet. Meanwhile, back at the cauldron, Macbeth again finds the bewitching group. They tell him to beware Macduff but assure him he can’t be harmed by any “man of woman born” and that he’ll be invincible until Birnham Wood marches on his castle. The Macbeths resolve to kill Macduff and his progeny. Macduff, his family having been killed, joins the returning Malcolm to invade Scotland. (Here the Metropolitan Opera Chorus was especially effective as they once again sang solidly as though with a single voice). Lady Macbeth sleepwalks as she is herself haunted. Macbeth hears that she has died, and that the woods (camouflaged troops) are advancing. Macduff tells Macbeth that he was not born naturally but had a Caesarean birth (thus conveniently fulfilling the witches’ last prophecy), then kills Macbeth, declaring Malcolm King of Scotland.

The uniqueness of this production began with the concept of making the witches not a trio but a veritable coven tree of them, nay a whole forest. And they were hardly the forest’s prime evil. That honor went unquestionably to the lady of the house. It was Netrebko’s courageous choice to take on the demanding vocal requirements of the role of Lady Macbeth, and she brought the house down. Her acting was on a par with her singing, creating a performance that will be hard to forget and tickets that will be even harder to get. Thus it was a real coup for Fathom Events to offer such an exquisite event at a theater near you. But Netrebko was not the only reason for attending; Lucic, Pape and Calleja were all memorable. The performance was expertly conducted by the Met’s Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi. Technical credits included the Production by Adrian Noble, the minimal but striking Set and Costume Design by Mark Thompson, and eerie Lighting Design by Jean Kalman.

As is so often the case with this opera, it was Lady Macbeth who held center stage firmly in her murderous grip. Those who weren’t fortunate enough to see this broadcast will have another opportunity to do so when it is encored on Wednesday Oct.15 at 6:30pm. Miss it and you’ll be sleepwalking for ages trying to forgive yourself.

10/11/2014

BLO's "Traviata": Love Among the Flowers


The Cast of "La Traviata"
(photo: Eric Antoniou for Boston Lyric Opera)
 
Boston Lyric Opera got its season off to a welcome start with its production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata”, not seen at BLO in the past decade. Based on a play which was in turn based on the novel “Our Lady of the Camellias” by Alexandre Dumas fils, with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, the opera is one of the most popular in the canon, and deservedly so. Though it failed miserably at its premiere, it gained popularity after some serious revisions by the composer himself. Verdi’s music for this work remains approachable to novices and is beloved by opera buffs. The story is an absorbing one, as a translation of the title would reveal, “A Woman Gone Astray”. Astray indeed; it often seems as though divas suffer from recurrent monetary insecurity, only relieved by a mid-plot dalliance or two with rich baritones, somehow leading to a late night return to the arms of a forgiving tenor. This may be attributed to the inflammation of the diva’s bank account (sometimes referred to as “diva-ticulitis”), or a worsening of a terminal illness culminating in a gloriously composed, and often quite lengthy, apotheosis of sorts as the diva and her stage character attain the heights of musical immortality. As such, putting aside nagging moral or ethical thoughts, it can be great fun for the audience anxious to see a loving reunion before the work finally ends. And so it was in this performance. Nanoseconds after the curtain raised, there was our heroine already coughing, a sure sign of dire things to come, but a few hours later, reconciliation there was, though at great cost as it almost always must be in operatic conventions.

In this production, Soprano Anya Matanovic, in her BLO debut, starred as Violetta, one of those operatic courtesans with a heart of gold, who gambles everything for a chance at true love. Tenor Michael Wade Lee (also in his BLO debut) portrayed Alfredo, her ardent lover who first loses but ultimately gains his Violetta in that justly famed reconciliation scene. Both began a bit tentatively but eventually slipped comfortably into their roles. Matanovic particularly shined with her vulnerability and honesty in her death scene. Alfredo’s father Germont, intent on preserving the honor of his family at all costs, was played by baritone Weston Hurt, recently heard at Boston Odyssey Opera’s concert of Korngold’s “Die todt Stadt”; he was the vocal hit of the performance with his commanding singing. Also featured were members and alumni of the BLO’s estimable Emerging Artists program, including Jon Jurgens (Gastone), Chelsea Basler (Flora), David Wadden (D‘Obigny), Rachel Hauge (Annina), Omar Najmi (Giuseppe), and David Cushing (Doctor). David Kravitz was the Baron. The performance was conducted by Arthur Fagen (mostly competent, if the pacing was more than slightly lugubrious in the scene between Alfredo and his father) and Directed by Chas Rader-Shieber. The Boston Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus gave some depth to the familiar score. Technical credits included effective Lighting Design by Mike Inwood, and Wigs and Makeup Design by Jason Allen. The most controversial technical element was the Set Design by Julia Noulin-Mérat, minimalist to a fault in the first half of the production (except for the edge of what was such a mammoth painting that Violetta must have been inhabiting an airplane hanger). After intermission the scene at Flora’s party was truly bizarre, seemingly aping 1930’s Berlin decadence with its distractingly gross debauchery. The Costume Design by Jacob A. Climer for this scene (straight out of “Cabaret”) and Violetta’s demise (oddly sporting a train that must have been over twenty-five feet long) added to the strangeness of the proceedings.

But “Traviata” is all about the music, and in the end that’s where the BLO truly delivered. It was a worthy start to what looks like a very promising season. Next up for the BLO is a far less familiar yet enticing production of Frank Martin’s “The Love Potion”, opening on November 19th.

10/10/2014

Fathom Events' "From Here to Eternity": Life Is a Beach


Robert Lonsdale as Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt in "From Here to Eternity"
(photo: Johan Persson)
 
The new musical “From Here to Eternity” has arrived on our shores, thanks to Fathom Events, as the latest stage-to-cinema offering from London. This eagerly anticipated adaptation by Bill Oakes from the 1951 novel by James Jones (which won the National Book award for Fiction and was adapted as a film in 1953, winning eight Oscars including Best Picture), was not a success. Even with Lyrics by Tim Rice (who was also the Producer, with Lee Menzies) and Music by Stuart Brayson (of the band Pop), directed by Tamara Harvey, it lasted just over six months, and failed to garner any Olivier Award nominations. When it opened in September 2013, the most cynical critics referred to it as “From Here to November”. (The actual title derives from a work of  Kipling: “Damned from here to eternity”). It was controversial, as it was actually based on the revised unexpurgated version of the novel released in 2011, which restored the author’s references to gay sex and prostitution. The stage show’s natural use of profanity and nudity may also have contributed to its early demise. Now that we’re able to judge the work for ourselves, even before its rumored transition to New York next year, one would have to say it surely deserved better. It’s not without its flaws, but these could be overcome with some careful editing. What this screening showed was just how worthy an effort it was, and how promising its future could be.

The time is 1941, at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, just months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the solid tradition of wartime-based musicals of the past, such as “South Pacific” and “Miss Saigon”, the story concentrates on love affairs involving military men, in this case members of G Company: 1st Sergeant Milt Warden (Darius Campbell), enters into an affair with Karen Holmes (Rebecca Thornhill) the wife of his superior, Capt. Dana “Dynamite” Holmes (Martin Marquez); Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Robert Lonsdale), a career military man, falls in love with Lorene (Siubhan Harrison), one of the New Congress Club girls (a dance hall hostess in the film, but clearly a prostitute in this version); and Pvt. Angelo Maggio (Ryan Sampson), has love for sale, as a sort of gay hustler. The relationship between Milt and Karen is a dangerous one, but no less than Prewitt’s naïve obsession with Lorene, or the plight of Maggio and his night job. Added to the tension is the “treatment”, or bullying, which Prewitt receives from his company when he refuses to box for the aforementioned “Dynamite” Holmes, based on some bad personal history.

The musical numbers, played by a terrific fifteen piece band, are many (perhaps too many, crying out for some trimming and tightening), and varied, ranging from ballads to blues to jazz, and big band to swing and even to somewhat anachronistic rock and roll (and sometimes with more brass than even the Army can handle). In the first act alone there are fourteen numbers, with several standouts: “Thirty Year Man” (delivered by the hunky yet vulnerable Lonsdale, who immediately captures and continually focuses our attention on his character), “Another Language” (a solo by Thornhill, a much more forward and experienced housewife than in the film), the rousing “You Got the Money” (sung by Harrison and the female ensemble), the lilting “Marking Time” (a solo by Campbell, a tall, dark and handsome Warden with a fine voice), “Fight the Fight” (an anthem twice reprised by Lonsdale, and a real showstopper), “Run Along, Joe” (a beautifully sad lament by Harrison), and the wonderful finale to the act, “More than America” (featuring Campbell, Thornhill and the Company). In the second act there are thirteen numbers, again with several memorable ones: “Love Me Forever Today” (a tender duet for Lonsdale and Harrison), “Ain’t Where I Wanna Be Blues” (early rock and roll as sung by Lonsdale and Campbell, the intricate quartets “Something in Return” and “From Here to Eternity” (both performed by the four principals), the poignant “Boys of ‘41” (sung by the Ladies), and “Run Along Joe” (reprised by Harrison).

The huge cast of thirty-three singing and dancing actors include the men of Company G: Fatso (Brian Doherty), Bugler/Anderson/Flight Captain (Warren Sollars), Sgt. Ike Galovich (David Stoller), Hal (Stephen Webb), and Privates played by Yiftach Mizrahi, Nuno Queimado, Dean John-Wilson, James Ballanger, Adam Vaughn and Matthew Wesley. The Congress Club girls include Maureen (Rebecca Sutherland), Billy (Lauren Tyrer), a trio (Lucinda Shaw, Christine Allado and Keisha Amponsa Banson), and a chorus of chorines: Abigail Climer, Lauren Varnham, Kirby Hughes, Carolyn Maitland, Jessica Ellen, Dale Evans, and Lauren Ingram. The technical credits included the terrific Set Design and Costume Design by Soutra Gilmour (at least for the ladies, as the men’s outfits are uniformly alike), striking Lighting Design by Bruno Poet, effective Sound Design by Mick Potter, moving Projection Design by Jon Driscoll, and fine Orchestrations and Musical Supervision by David White with Music Direction by Tom Deering. The Choreography by Javier de Frutos is sometimes frenetic, but this may be the result of the decision to film (and thus redirect) the show more as a movie than a live show.

This is a good show with great moments, superb singing and a lot of heart. It can be visually stunning (the attack on Pearl Harbor is amazingly portrayed). As often happens when a lengthy novel is adapted to the musical stage, it’s plot and subplot heavy, especially in the expository scenes of the first act. Some of the accents, purporting to be American, miss the mark (as do a few moments of out of synch syntax, such as the British “we’re different to them”, rather than the American “different than”, or even more correct “different from”). But these are small and easily corrected missteps on the way to the show this work could be. At it stands, it’s chock full of energy and vitality, with enough stirring numbers to rock a house from here to.....Broadway.

This month's Fathom Events include the Metropolitan Opera ("Macbeth" Oct.11 & 12, "Marriage of Figaro" Oct.18 & 22) and encores of  National Theatre Live's "Frankenstein" (Oct.27 & 29). Coming in November, "Of Mice and Men" (with James Franco and Chris O'Dowd, Nov.6).

10/07/2014

New Rep's "Assassins": A Killer Show


The Cast of "Assassins"
(photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)
 
New Rep’s current production, second in their series of three musicals in a row, is “Assassins”, an extraordinarily complex show that, in the right hands, can be extremely powerful. And so it is in this production, featuring an ensemble of brilliant singers who are definitely up to this very challenging score. Unquestionably the most controversial work by the renowned Composer/Lyricist Stephen Sondheim (with Book by John Weidman), it’s a brief historical pageant of sorts with fewer than a dozen songs dealing with presidential assassinations, successful and attempted, throughout the last couple of centuries, from Lincoln to Kennedy. As such it’s unusual fodder for the stuff of musicals. It’s a challenging piece of guerilla theater, afflicting the comfortable without comforting the afflicted, in its relentlessly brazen depiction of the havoc wreaked by misfits looking for fame, love, hate, revenge, or whatever elusive motivation that drives them to death and destruction.

Audiences at its premiere at Playwright’s Horizons in New York in 1991 hadn’t a clue what sort of event they were about to witness. No one expected a light musical comedy from Sondheim and Weidman, but what they got was a theme that was a lot darker, more dangerous and disturbing than they expected: anyone can grow up to be President; anyone can grow up to be a killer. As the librettist Weidman put it, “Assassins” suggests that “while these individuals are, to say the least, peculiar, taken as a group they are peculiarly American…they share a common purpose: a desperate desire to reconcile the intolerable feelings of impotence with an inflamed and malignant sense of entitlement.” He went on to say that the reason for the frequency of these attempts (thirteen times in our young history) is because one of our country’s myths is that American dreams “not only can come true, but should come true, and that if they don’t someone or something is to blame”. When each one of Sondheim’s songs commands the stage, this production ascends the heights of musical theater at its best. When the music occasionally stops, however, so does the momentum, partly due to Weidman’s overwritten more comic moments, partly due to the uneven pacing and unsubtle delivery of these moments under the direction of Artistic Director Jim Petosa. Overall, the excellence of the singing, not just hitting the notes but doing so with intensity, makes for a most memorable performance. Sondheim requires them to deliver ballads, ragtime, a cakewalk and even a spiritual, all the while remaining firmly in character; amazingly, they do, with not a single missed nuance.

The play begins in a carnival shooting gallery, a prologue that not only introduces the characters we will encounter but also sets the tone of the piece as well as its related themes. It’s a shocking beginning, wherein the Proprietor (Benjamin Evett) urges an assorted bunch of people, most of whom turn out to be certifiable lunatics, to solve their problems by shooting a President (“Everybody’s Got the Right”). A Balladeer (Evan Gambardella, carrying a guitar which he never plays, and makes for an unwieldy prop, a strange choice for this role) enters to tell the story of John Wilkes Booth (Mark Linehan), in hiding after killing Lincoln (“The Ballad of Booth”). Then five witnesses each claim they intervened in the attempted assassination of FDR by Giuseppe Zangara (Harrison Bryan), who had been complaining of stomach pains (“How I Saved Roosevelt”) and ended up shooting Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak. There follows the shooting of McKinley by Leon Czolgosz (Kevin Patrick Martin), inflamed by the rhetoric of anarchist Emma Goldman (Casey Tucker), at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo (“Gun Song: The Ballad of Czolgosz”), with McKinley dying a week later. Next comes perhaps the most bizarre number in the show, ironically the most melodic song in the show, a duet by Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (McCaela Donovan) and John Hinckley, Jr. (Patrick Varner) in which each sings of her and his infatuation with Charles Manson and Jody Foster respectively (“Unworthy of Your Love”). Fromme also meets up with Sarah Jane Moore (Paula Langton) to contemplate killing Gerald Ford. Next up is Charles Guiteau (Brad Daniel Peloquin), who shot Garfield after he refused to make him Ambassador to France (“The Ballad of Guiteau”).

Then the group, led by Samuel Byck (Peter S. Adams) who had planned to fly into the Nixon White House, sings “Another National Anthem” about how they haven‘t solved either their own issues or the country’s problems, but must follow the American Dream to win their prizes at the shooting gallery. In one of many time-warped scenes, Booth encourages Lee Harvey Oswald (also played by Gambardella) to shoot JFK (“November 22, 1963”) from the Texas Book Depository, which he does, a chilling moment given the relatively benign role this actor had been playing up this point. The ensemble (including Jesse Garlick) then sings "Something Just Broke". In the Finale (a reprise of “Everybody‘s Got the Right”), they all (for the first time including Oswald) reload and get ready to shoot again, but this time it’s not a President they’re aiming at.

It’s essentially a revue, but an atypically coherent and focused one, belying this critic’s usual dismissal of the form as not being true theater. Every member of the cast gets a chance to excel, with standouts including the excellent Evett and the imposing Linehan. The technical credits are all superb, from the Musical Direction by Matthew Stern, the terrific Scenic Design by Kamilla Kurmanbekova assisted by JiYoung Han (dominated by a stylized American flag with 32 bullet holes in its stars, and discarded debris from political rallies at both sides of the stage), the Costume Design by Chelsea Kerl, the Lighting Design by Jedidiah Roe, to the Sound Design by Michael Policare. The near-perfect sound balance deserves special mention, as the eight piece band is at the edge of the stage, eliminating the tinny sound that often results when the musicians are hidden and seem to be in some other county. This is a triumph of technical and performing synergy. One wishes that the direction had respected the material more, rather than punching a lot of the funnier lines.

Some dispute the appropriateness of the subject for musical theater, yet other tragedies have been successfully musicalized, at least after enough time has elapsed to view them from a distance. Consider, for example, the sinking of the Titanic, fodder for at least three musicals in the past: “Unsinkable Molly Brown” (a comedy yet!), “Hello Again”, and, of course, “Titanic”. The assassins and would-be assassins of this current piece deserve analysis, as some of them tragically altered the course of history, obviously disregarding the old adage that one’s freedom to use her or his elbow ends at another person’s ribcage. Time is not the only thing that’s warped in this work. Sondheim claimed “some were less than crazy, and some were more then crazy”; Weidman stated that the most disturbing discovery they made was “the lives they lived up to that point and what those lives reveal”. Despite its relentless evil, the play, for a discerning viewer, affords considerable interest, primarily due to Sondheim’s terrific pastiches of period musical styles, and the lens held up to what makes these wounded wackos tick. If one can put aside the insanity of the various protagonists, it’s a fascinating view into the psyches of those people on the periphery of normal life who may well be in part a product of our American political culture. It conveys one of the possible logical outcomes of demonizing an opponent as so often happens in our own day, especially in politics. For the most part, where “Assassins” is concerned, musical comedy it’s definitely not; it’s that rare entry for the non-operatic stage: musical tragedy. It doesn’t attempt to present any choice of persons to feel for, except, as an audience member at the original production of the show put it: “Us. You’re supposed to feel for us”.