Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Bay Area Musicals is presenting a powerful production of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Assassins. It have seen this commanding musical many times in the past, including the original at Playwrights Horizons in 1991 with Patrick Cassidy, Victor Garber, and Debra Monk and the London production in 1992, plus many others in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The last time I saw it was the Broadway revival at Studio 54 with Neil Patrick Harris in 2004. This production is one of the best I have ever seen including the original and London productions.
Assassins has a Brechtian vaudeville format with songs, skits and ravings from the gunmen and women who were intent on killing a president. All of the assassins and attempted assassins are here, from John Wilkes Booth to John Hinckley. The musical is rollicking and sobering in equal measures. Assassins is a stimulating piece.
The opening number blew my mind, as the Proprietor (Eric Neiman) and the assassins came out on stage to sing "Everybody's Got the Right," and I knew I was in the for an exciting ride. Up next is John Wilkes Booth (Derrick Silva) hiding out in a barn after slaying Abraham Lincoln, and comparing himself to Brutus opposite Lincoln's Caesar. The Balladeer (Sage Georgevitch-Castellanos) appears onstage to stunningly sing "The Ballad of Booth."
Daren A.C. Carollo has assembled a perfect cast of singer-actors. Matthew McCoy has choreographed their awesome movements while Joe Gallo on piano conducts an off-stage orchestra of seven members to play the awe-inspiring melodies of Stephen Sondheim.
Sage Georgevitch-Castellanos brilliantly portrays a great banjo-strumming Balladeer. He skillfully sings these songs Blue Delta style, especially "The Ballad of Booth," a raucous country tune. He deftly morphs into an impressive and unsettling performance as Lee Harvey Oswald at the end of the 100-minute no-intermission production.
Derrick Silva is astonishing as John Wilkes Booth with powerful baritone vocal chops. With his southern accent, he's never out of character throughout the performance. Jessica Fisher as the exasperated, wacko housewife Sara Jane Moore who took aim at President Ford because "it seemed a correct expression of my anger," and Kelli Schultz as Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a devotee of mass murderer Charles Mason, provide comedy relief in this mostly serious musical. Both are highly entertaining.
Zac Schuman as the lovesick John Hinckley gives a poignant rendition of "Unworthy of Your Love." He looks and acts like the infatuated character who was in love with Jodie Foster. Terrence McLaughlin sports an accurate intonation as Giuseppe Zangara, who attempted to assassinate FDR. He has commanding vocal chops singing "How I Saved Roosevelt." John Brown is first-rate as loud mouth Sam Byck, who is obsessed with Leonard Bernstein and Richard Nixon. Peter Budinger is pitch perfect as the deluded Charles Guiteau and soul-stirring when he sings "I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad" in "The Ballad of Czolgosz" as he goes to the gallows. DC Scarpelli is fantastic and sports a genuine accent as Leon Czolgosz who assassinated President McKinley. He gives a terrifying rendition of the "The Gun Song." Nicole Frydman gives a splendid performance as Emma Goodman. Rebecca David, Gary M Giurbino, and Maximillian Wix round out the cast and they are excellent.
Bottom Line: This is a super bold production with terrific singing, fantastic direction, and it features Sondheim's scorching music and lyrics and Weidman's ironic book that informs and sidetracks us. It is all relevant in today's political climate.
Assassins runs through March 19, 2017, at the Alcazar Theatre, 650 Geary Blvd, San Francisco. For tickets and information, visit www.bamsf.org. Coming up next is Seussical running July 6 through August 5, 2017.