PlayMakers Repertory Company will wrap up its stellar 2013-14 main-stage season with Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award®-winning 1990 Off-Broadway, 1992 West End, and 2004 Broadway musical Assassins, on April 2-6, 8-13, and 15-20 in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art. Brooklyn, NY director Mike Donahue will stage the show for UNC’s professional-theater-in-residence.
Based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr. Assassins features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by John Weidman. The show premiered Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, under the direction of Jerry Zaks on Dec. 18, 1990, and ran for 73 performances before closing on Feb. 16, 1991. It opened on Oct. 29, 1992 at the Donmar Warehouse in London’s West End, under the direction of Sam Mendes, and ran for 76 performances before closing on Jan. 9, 1993.
Assassins finally made its Broadway debut, produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company and directed by Joe Mantello, on April 22, 2004 at Studio 54, where it ran for 101 performances before closing on July 18 2004. The show won five 2004 Tony Awards, including the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.
“I saw the Roundabout Theater Company production on Broadway in 2004,” recalls PlayMakers Rep guest director Mike Donahue. “Then I really began digging into the material and learning the piece last summer.”
Donahue, who previously directed PlayMakers Rep’s productions of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (2009), A Number (2011), and The Making of a King: Henry IV & V (2012) (co-directed with PlayMakers producing artistic director Joseph Haj), adds, “I love how brilliantly Sondheim and Weidman have taken a group of people who are, if remembered/known at all, often seen as misfits, outsiders, psychopaths, not like us — and found a common thread that runs not only through all of their experiences — feelings of invisibility, of a right to happiness, of entitlement — but feelings that are actually an integral part of how a great many people define the ‘American Dream.'”
When the curtain rises, Donahue quips, “A group of would-be and successful assassins of American Presidents walk into a bar … (that is actually one of the early scenes in the show). In the opening, a traveling salesman offers a deal: buy a gun for a low price, get a chance to shoot your target; and if you win, you’ll get the prize — of the girl, of happiness, of recognition, of fame, of greater economic equality, of a free country. And then see what happens….”
Mike Donahue says, “The structure of the show is not a traditionally linear narrative — and the people onstage are all very different from one another, come from completely different worlds and periods. And the music and tone of the book scenes change wildly based on which assassin is onstage.
“One of the big challenges,” Donahue claims, “is figuring out the logic of how the piece is stitched together: what comes next and why; what world we’re actually in for the entire evening; when we’re meant to laugh, or sympathize, or be scared.”
The PlayMakers Rep cast for Assassins includes (in alphabetical order): Danny Binstock as John Wilkes Booth, Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Sam Byck, Dede Corvinus as a Bystander Woman and Emma Goldman, Gregory DeCandia as Leon Czolgosz, Jorge Donoso as a Bystander Man, Ray Dooley as The Proprietor of the bar, Julie Fishell as Sara Jane Moore, Brandon Garegnani as John Hinckley, Scott McCartney Gilliam as Billy, Nilan Johnson as a Bystander Man, Patrick McHugh as Lee Harvey Oswald, Jeffrey Meanza as Charles Guiteau, Joseph Medeiros as Guiseppe Zangara, Spencer Moses as Balladeer, Newlin Parker as aBystander Man, Maren Searle as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, Jessica Sorgi as a Bystander Woman.
In addition to director Mike Donahue and PlayMakers producing artistic director Joe Haj, PlayMakers Repertory Company’s creative team for Assassins includes choreographer Casey Sams, music director/conductor Mark Hartman, scenic designer Rachel Hauck, costume designer Anne Kennedy, lighting designer Charlie Morrison, sound designer/Engineer Robert Dagit, production manager Michael Rolleri, vocal coach Terry Weber, movement coach Craig Turner, firearms trainer David McClutchey, dramaturg Gregory Kable, stage manager Charles K. Bayang , and assistant stage manager Sarah Smiley .
Besides music director/conductor Mark Hartman (keyboard 1), the PlayMakers orchestra includes (in alphabetical order): Scott Bailey (trombone), Bobby Hinson (trumpet), Jesse Kapsha (keyboard 2), Wayne Leechford (reed 1), Drew Lile (guitar), Ian Mayron (French horn), Vince Moss (drums), Erik Rigg (reed 2), James Rudisill (French horn sub), John Simonetti (bass), and Steve Wilfong (trombone).
Director Mike Donahue says, the show’s lighting is “evocative of the carnival world and able to shift the tone and feel of the world in a second” and its set is “Influenced by the world of carnival — seedy, sexy, alluring, full of games and great possibilities to win.” He adds, “[The set] is largely minimal and evocative, allowing us to change tone and location in a matter of seconds — and loaded with all sorts of playful, darkly funny surprises throughout.”
Donahue says that the costumes for the assassins “all come from their moment in time, so you see a wonderful array of periods — but we’ve worked to make the clothes feel like real clothes, so that you feel these people to be living now in this room with you rather than the experience of going to a wax museum.”
PlayMakers Repertory Company guest director Mike Donahue concludes, “I think [Assassins] is a wonderfully surprising, funny, dark and spectacular piece of theater. It’s not like most musicals, and it’s the kind of piece that continually keeps you on your toes, on the edge of your seat. But in addition to being entertaining and fun, it’s also a piece that asks us to really question how it is that we define the American Dream [and] what it is to be an American, and to consider the repercussions of how we answer those questions.”
SECOND OPINION: April 1st Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Juanita Chavarro: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2014/04/playmakers-brings-assassins-to-the-stage.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents ASSASSINS at 7:30 p.m. April 2-4 Previews, 7:30 p.m. April 5 Opening Night, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 6, 7:30 p.m. April 8-11, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 12, 2 p.m. April 13, 7:30 p.m. April 15-18, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 19, and 2 p.m. April 20 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15-$45 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), except $55 on Opening Night (April 5th) and $15-per-ticket (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances. There are also discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311, email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
NEWS RELEASE: https://uncnews.unc.edu/2014/03/18/playmakers-presents-sondheims-tony-winning-assassins/.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, and https://twitter.com/playmakersrep.
BLOG: PlayMakers Page to Stage: http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 2: There will be a gala reception after the $55-per-person 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 5th.
NOTE 3: At 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8th, there will be an All-Access Performances, with sign-language interpretation, audio-described by Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh.
NOTE 4: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team after the Wednesday, April 9th, and Sunday, April 13th, performances.
NOTE 5: There will be an Open Captioning Performance at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 12th. (for more information, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption).
NOTE 6: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussions after the 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 19th, and the 2 p.m. Sunday, April 20th performances.
Assassins (1990 Off-Broadway, 1992 West End, and 2004 Broadway musical) http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000136 (Music Theatre International), http://www.sondheim.com/shows/assassins/ (Sondheim.com), http://www.sondheimguide.com/assassins.html (Stephen Sondheim Reference Guide), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=10563 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassins_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: http://www.mtishowspace.com/action/file/download?file_guid=193862 (Music Theatre International).
Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics): http://www.sondheim.org/ (Stephen Sondheim Society), http://www.sondheim.com/ (Sondheim.com), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Sondheim (Wikipedia).
John Weidman (book): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Weidman (Wikipedia).
Mike Donahue (Brooklyn NY director): http://www.mikemdonahue.com/Portfolio.html (official website) and http://playmakersrep.org/performances/embed_artist.aspx?id=a2cd02db-e01c-4a24-8e6e-655c1dfca6bf (PlayMakers Repertory Company bio).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)