Hannah Hilty is Stage Manager for Western Reserve Playhouse’s production of “Assassins,” which opens this Friday, Oct. 25.
As the weather chills and leaves begin to drop, Northeast Ohioans’ continue their search for spooky ways to spend their weekend nights. And what better way to enjoy the season than to see John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and many other famous American assassins take the stage in song and dance?
“Assassins,” at Western Reserve Playhouse this month, is one of Stephen Sondheim’s most famous, and infamous, musicals. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the musical is based on a book by John Weidman, “Assassins,” and an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr. The performance will open just before Halloween, Friday, Oct. 25, and will run Oct. 26, Nov. 1, 2, 8 and 9, with all shows beginning at 8 p.m. There will also be a special matinee on Nov. 3, starting at 2 p.m.
The musical is bookended by America’s two most famous presidential assassinations, those of Lincoln and Kennedy, but also includes the stories of James Garfield and William McKinley’s murderers. In addition, you’ll learn about all other failed presidential assassins; those who missed their shot and paid the price.
Other than the gunfire itself, Sondheim creates scenes between assassins who lived a hundred years apart, and everyone in between, to add an extra layer of humanity and connection. Do you want to see a mentally unstable author hit on a clumsy and cluttered West Virginian? An obsessed Charlie Manson follower singing a duet with an extremely introverted guitarist? The devilishly enchanting John Wilkes Booth interacting with…anybody?
The show itself is not an easy one, due to its overall premise of bloodshed, profanity and real-life murders. Through Sondheim’s words and Artistic Director Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski’s vision, Western Reserve Playhouse promises a dark comedy that’s fun and topical, but with more than enough for audience members to think about on the drive home.
The cast of 18 works together like a close-knit group of friends, despite many of them meeting each other for the first time during this production. Their chemistry isn’t just evident in scenes of dialogue, but to hear all of their voices together in harmony is a musical must.
Raw emotion mixes with amazing vocals and synchronized movement in each song number, producing a powerful and gruesome warning about the reality of America and its famous Dream. Because of this, the show is not suitable for children.
As stage manager for this production, I had the pleasure of working with actors, director and designers in this major collaboration. Actors are trying something new in every rehearsal, experimenting with their words and truly embodying their characters.
Working with Sniadak-Yamokoski is a constant reminder of the passion and humanity that must be present to make theatre come to life. Her enthusiasm and love of Western Reserve Playhouse drives the collaboration of this show, causing actors to feel comfortable and safe enough to bring these characters to life (or perhaps, back to life) while also telling jokes, stories and having fun in between runs.
The look of the stage itself brings a wildly patriotic feeling, covered in blue, white, and especially red. The use of speciality lighting for different effects, as well as large-screen televisions onstage, all blend together to tell Sondheim’s story in the theatre’s own original way.
Most importantly, this truly American musical is a cautionary tale of the American Dream and what happens when freedoms are abused. You both love and hate to watch some of the most disturbing names of our history sing and dance together. But much in the same vein of shows like “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” humanizing the monsters of our society help us see the true horror of humanity and the lengths people can be pushed until they break.
“Assassins” isn’t just to be seen for its entertainment; it must be seen as a reflection of us and our country. After all, as 18 strong actors playing murderers and ghosts will remind you, everyone’s got the right to their dreams.
Tickets may purchased at www.westernreserveplayhouse.org. Western Reserve Playhouse is located at 3326 Everett Road, in Bath. Tickets are $17 for adults and $15 for seniors (65 and up) and students (18 and under). The production is Rated R.