Friday, October 25, 2013

'Assassins': Dark mirth and a musical meditation on our history

"Assassins" runs now through Nov. 2 at the the Sharadin Bigler Theatre

Have you ever thought about why some of America’s infamous assassins, and would-be assassins, did what they did?

Playwright John Weidman and composer Stephen Sondheim obviously did. They thought about it A LOT. The result is an edgy, scary, profound and darkly funny piece of musical theater called “Assassins.”

In part, the show is about American history, seen through an artistic lens, with plenty of artistic license. Where else but in a piece of art could you see assassins from varied periods in American history interacting on stage, all at once, and discussing their deeds and motivations with each other?!?

In part, the show is a meditation on the so-called American Dream, and what happens when that dream is not fulfilled in the life of someone who’s emotionally or mentally unbalanced.

In part, it’s a chance for assassins from John Wilkes Booth (Lincoln) to Leon Czolgosz (McKinley) to Charles Guiteau (Garfield) to explain their actions to the audience and to try to give their lives posthumous meaning (though three of the would-be assassins are still alive, off stage).

And, in total, it’s a marvelous evening at the theater. It’s especially so with the FANTASTIC cast assembled by director Edward Fernandez, and the voices and music directed by J.P. Meyer – who also happens to be EPAC’s board president. I was completely blown away (so to speak) by what I saw, even during the rehearsal process!

A confession: “Assassins” is probably my favorite show. The book, music and lyrics are amazing – so much more so because, before this show existed, it would be hard to have imagined someone creating such a delightful musical out of such dark material.

This show is definitely not for kids. There are very scary, unhinged individuals on stage, and there are guns going off at regular intervals (and capital punishments from a bygone era). It’s about famous killers, after all.

But for those who love to see a show that makes you laugh, tear up and think, while having the time of your life getting to know a group of verrrrry interesting individuals –– “Assassins” is right up your street!

This show is not performed very often; looking at the Sondheim Review’s list of productions around the country, EPAC’s is one of the very few being presented this year. How very, VERY fortunate we are to have this theater right in our community … a theater that brings us shows like this, while also delivering new takes on classics like “Fiddler on the Roof” (coming in December).

The cast, crew, musicians and creative team are almost halfway through the run of “Assassins.” Please honor this rare gem they’ve created by coming to the Sharadin Bigler Theatre to see the show before it ends its run Nov. 2. Call the box office at 717-733-7966, or visit the website to order online. While you’re there, check out the fantastic season EPAC has in store for you in 2014!

-merv wright