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Clayton Lin: Weighing In

Assassins @ State Theatre Centre

Andrew Ryan

 Cameron Steens, Will 0'Mahony, Brendan Hanson as Leon Czolgosz, Charles W. Guiteau and John Wilkes Booth respectively (Credit: Phillip Gostelow)

Cameron Steens, Will 0'Mahony, Brendan Hanson as Leon Czolgosz, Charles W. Guiteau and John Wilkes Booth respectively (Credit: Phillip Gostelow)

Director: Roger Hodgman

Musical Director: Jangoo Chapkhana


It’s a very strange time we live in, to be listening to a very grim idea delivered via a jovial, chirpy ditty.

To be fair, Assassins, one of the most iconic pieces from Stephen Sondheim’s oeuvre (which mind you includes the West Side Story, considered the musical of musicals- though Tim Minchin may want to have the final word)- was originally produced in 1990 and made its Broadway debut in 2004, so you couldn’t really say its a product of our highly charged, partisan times

Assassins imagines the interactions between the infamous assassins and would-be killers of American presidents meeting together and having a good ol’ Ay-merican shindig. This basic premise provides the structure in which the musical numbers are sang. Period appropriate costumes and exaggerated accents are par the course for this piece, which I must admit does have a 1900-1920s vaudevillean fair- and a large cast means the propensity of contemporary theatre to roll multiple persons into one body is left to a minimum.

However, the exuberance of Assassins is striking in contrast to other contemporary performances, which tend to be of an almost morose, reflective, navel-gazing about the human condition. Like a window to the more optimistic 1990s, when things like financial crisis and economic downturn were things of a distant past, never to occur ever again- the entire ensemble is a celebration of America in a way that feels like the best thing since hamburgers. Strains of American exceptionalism, manifest destiny, and the notion that you can pull yourself by the bootstraps (the notion that one highly skilled, tenacious superman can change his circumstances) serve as a tempering undercurrent to proceedings- your mileage may vary on this one.

Still, at least Assassins is happy, and joyous, and that might be the just reason to enjoy it- and not to mention getting an abridged history lesson to boot.


Assassins runs until 1 July @ State Theatre Centre