The anachronistic show explores the lives of the nine presidential assassins and would-be assassins, weaving together fictional scenes where the characters interact among each other with real-life events.
The musical uses the premise of a murderous carnival game to produce a revue-style portrayal of men and women who attempted (successfully or otherwise) to assassinate Presidents of the United States. The music varies to reflect the popular music of the eras depicted.
Les auteurs évoquent les hommes et les femmes qui ont assassiné (ou tenté d'assassiner) un président des États-Unis. La musique s'adapte aux styles musicaux des différentes époques évoquées. Les assassins sont: Leon Czolgosz (1873 – 1901) : assassin de William McKinley (1843 – 1901) / John Hinckley (né en 1955) : tentative d'assassinat sur Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004) le 30 mars 1981 / Charles Guiteau (1841 – 1882) : assassin de James Garfield (1831 – 1881) / Giuseppe Zangara (1900 – 1933) : tentative d'assassinat sur Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – 1945) le 15 février 1933 / Samuel Byck (1930 – 1974) : tentative d'assassinat sur Richard Nixon (1913 – 1994) le 22 février 1974 / Lynette Fromme (née en 1948) : tentative d'assassinat sur Gerald Ford (1913 – 2006) le 5 septembre 1975. / Sara Jane Moore (née en 1930) : tentative d'assassinat sur Gerald Ford le 22 septembre 1975. / John Wilkes Booth (1838 – 1865) : assassin d'Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865)Synopsis complet
En s'attardant sur le caractère des hommes qui ont tenté et parfois réussi à assassiner les présidents des Etats-Unis, que l'on peut retrouver en analysant leur vie quotidienne, "Assassins" nous invite à considérer leur motivation." Sondheim affronte la douleur dans le but de tenter de cautériser la déchéance et de guérir la maladie qui se dissimule au coeur de la société américaine." Loin de l'humanisme de sa comédie musicale précédente, "Into the woods", Sondheim suggère que les assassins politiques sont le résultat de la culture politique américaine (Joanne Gordon).
As a panelist at producer Stuart Ostrow's Musical Theater Lab, Sondheim read a script by playwright Charles Gilbert. Sondheim asked Gilbert for permission to use his idea. Gilbert consented and offered to write the book; but Sondheim declined, having already had collaborator John Weidman in mind. Weidman had written the book for Pacific Overtures and would work with Sondheim again on Road Show.
Assassins opened Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons on December 18, 1990, and closed on February 16, 1991 after 73 performances. Directed by Jerry Zaks the cast included Victor Garber, Terrence Mann, Patrick Cassidy, Debra Monk, Greg Germann, and Annie Golden. According to the Los Angeles Times, "The show has been sold out since previews began, reflecting the strong appeal of Sondheim's work among the theater crowd." Frank Rich in his New York Times review wrote "Assassins will have to fire with sharper aim and fewer blanks if it is to shoot to kill."
On October 29, 1992, Assassins opened in London at the Donmar Warehouse with direction by Sam Mendes and a cast that included Henry Goodman as Charles Guiteau and Louise Gold as Sara Jane Moore. The show ran for 76 performances, closing on January 9, 1993.
Roundabout Theater Company's Broadway production was originally scheduled for 2001 but was postponed to April 22, 2004, because the content was sensitive in light of the events of September 11, 2001. After 101 performances at Studio 54, Assassins closed on July 18, 2004. Directed by Joe Mantello, with musical staging by Jonathan Butterell, Neil Patrick Harris starred in the roles of The Balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald, with Marc Kudisch in an extended role as The Proprietor. Michael Cerveris played John Wilkes Booth, for which he received a Tony Award. The 2004 production was noted for a coup de théâtre: the Zapruder film of the death of John F. Kennedy projected onto Lee Harvey Oswald's t-shirt.
Other professional productions have included a 2006 production at Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, a 2008 production which ran from January 23 to February 2, 2008, at the Landor Theatre, London, and a production at the Union Theatre in Southwark, London, in July 2010. The South African premiere opened in December 2008 as the inaugural production of the NewSpace Theatre in Cape Town. This production was directed by Fred Abrahamse with a South African cast including Marcel Meyer as John Wilkes Booth, Riaan Norval as Lee Harvey Oswald, David Dennis as Charles J. Guiteau and Anthea Thompson as Sara Jane Moore. The Los Angeles premiere opened in 1994 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center and included Patrick Cassidy (the original Balladeer) playing Booth, and Alan Safier as Guiteau. A 2010 production in Toronto by BirdLand Theatre and Talk is Free Theatre won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Production in the Musical Theatre Division.
"Everybody's Got The Right" – Proprietor and Assassins (save Oswald)
"The Ballad of Booth" – Balladeer and Booth
"How I Saved Roosevelt" – Zangara, Proprietor and Ensemble
"The Gun Song" – Czolgosz, Booth, Guiteau and Moore
"The Ballad of Czolgosz" – Balladeer and Ensemble
"Unworthy of Your Love" – Hinckley and Fromme
"The Ballad of Guiteau" – Guiteau and Balladeer
"Another National Anthem" – Balladeer and Assassins (save for Oswald)+
"November 22, 1963" – Assassins
"Something Just Broke" – Ensemble ++
"Everybody's Got The Right" (Reprise) – Assassins
+ In most productions, the lead part among the Assassins for "Another National Anthem" is sung by Byck. However, in the 2004 Broadway production the lead is played by the Proprietor.
++ Added for the 1992 London production
JOHN WILKES BOOTH - An actor and passionate champion of the South during the Civil War.
GIUSEPPE ZANGARA - A short (under five feet) immigrant who failed to kill Franklin Roosevelt because he had to stand on a chair and it wobbled.
LEON CZOLGOSZ - The son of Polish immigrants, a worker in a glass factory and supporter of anarchist groups.
JOHN HINCKLEY - A man who shot President Reagan and three others to impress a girl he'd never met.
CHARLES GUITEAU - A Republican who wrote a campaign speech for President Garfield and ended up shooting him to promote the sales of his book.
SARA JANE MOORE - A five-times married FBI informer who tried to kill President Ford to re-establish her radical credentials.
LYNETTE "SQUEAKY FROMME - A member of the "family" of disciples of the mass murderer Charles Manson, who pulled a gun on President Ford so she could call Charlie as a witness.
SAMUEL BYCK - An unemployed loner who picketed the White House on Christmas Eve dressed as Santa Claus and died trying to implement his assassination plan at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD - A stock boy in the Texas School Book Depository.
THE BALLADEER - A singing witness to national catastrophe.
THE PROPRIETOR - The insinuating barker of a fairground shooting gallery.
DAVID HEROLD - Booth's accomplice.
EMMA GOLDMAN - An anarchist celebrity.
GERALD FORD - Briefly President of the United States, 1974-1977.
JAMES GARFIELD - President of the United States, briefly, in 1881.
BYSTANDERS, CITIZENS, etc.
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