Inside the minds of assassins

From left: Carl Hulden, Alex Hulett, Joshua Levin, Vince DiPeri, Alexander Pimentel, Amanda Baumler, Nicholas Williams, Zach Shanne and Lauren Rowland in Assassins.
From left: Carl Hulden, Alex Hulett, Joshua Levin, Vince DiPeri, Alexander Pimentel, Amanda Baumler, Nicholas Williams, Zach Shanne and Lauren Rowland in Assassins.

By Cathleen Leitch
Assassins, once a Broadway musical, has come to the Rider community as the most recent performance at Westminster Choir College.  Opening night was Friday, Oct. 30. Directed by adjunct professor Douglas Hall, the musical was a satirical yet serious take on nine assassins who murdered, or attempted to murder, a United States president.

The musical, originally written by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, shines the light on the assassins and their reasons for shooting, or attempting to shoot, a president. The most relevant assassin is John Wilkes Booth (junior Vincent DiPeri), who murdered President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

The opening act begins with “Everybody’s Got the Right,” a song about how everyone has the right to be happy. The proprietor, Jahmal Bland, is selling guns to the assassins when John Wilkes Booth first appears.

The following scenes are background stories of Leon Czolgosz (sophomore Alexander Hulett) and Charles Guiteau (senior Carl Hulden) among others. Each assassin has his or her own ballad, except Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, who attempted to shoot Gerald Ford. Many of the scenes, particularly those including Sara and Lynette, parody what most likely happened during the assassinations or the attempted assassinations. In one scene Moore accidently shoots her own dog because she does not know how to handle her gun. When the two finally meet President Ford, they attempt to murder him by throwing bullets because their guns are not loaded.

Though the show was satirical, it did highlight some of America’s genuine problems. The fakeness of the American dream was brought to light through Czoglosz, a poor boy who had no choice but to do factory work or starve. His motives for shooting the president ran deeper than a plea for attention.

John Hinckley (sophomore Zach Schanne) was an example of the obsessive nature of many of the characters. His obsession with Jodie Foster was the catalyst for attempting to assassinate Ronald Reagan.

Many of the nine were not exemplified alone; one in particular that was showcased was Samuel Byck (Nick Williams) who sent tapes to “Lenny.” The tapes begin as messages of praise toward “Lenny,” but soon Samuel is blaming him for all his problems. Samuel believes that the only way to make things right again is to kill President Nixon.

The ending scene introduces a new character, President John F. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, played by junior Alexander Pimmentel. About to commit suicide, he meets John Wilkes Booth, who tries to recruit him into the business of killing presidents. After several failed attempts, the other seven appear and create a feeling of belonging, telling Lee that he is the one who will connect them and give them all meaning.

While small, the cast had a good dynamic that worked well for the show. The perception that they all knew each other and were connected by their goal of killing a president was clearly displayed in interactions between the cast. However, the scenes in which presidents were shot at arose out of context in a few scenes. While the assassination attempt on Gerald Ford was cleverly written, other shootings seemed to occur spontaneously.

One of the most important aspects of a musical or play is character believability. The cast did well to become their characters, and costumes were well thought out and consistent. While the stage was cleverly put together, the setting at times was confusing. A projection screen was used throughout the show to display images to coincide with events of the scene. The screen, though a good idea, was not enough at times to present complete scenery. If one was not familiar with a particular character’s background, it may have taken to the end of the scene to understand where they were.

Despite a few kinks, Assassins was well written, funny and entertaining. It introduced the crowd to a new perspective of the American dream and the impact it has on Americans.

Assassins was performed from Oct. 30 through Nov. 1 at Westminster. Choir College in Princeton.

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