Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Arden Theatre Company
Review by Rebecca Rendell

The Cast
Photo by Ashley Smith / Wide Eyed Studios
Subversive, funny, and unexpectedly profound, director Terrence J. Nolen's production of Assassins kicks off the Arden Theatre Company's 2023-2024 season with a bang. Musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for this Tony Award-winning musical about the men and women who have trained their sights on a president of the United States of America. Nolen has cleverly updated the show for 2023 so that it is more relevant than ever.

Assassins delves into the lives and motivations of individuals who have attempted or succeeded in assassinating a U.S. presidents. These assassins (and would-be assassins) have assembled in a space reminiscent of a suburban parent's semi-finished basement. Paige Hathaway's intelligent scenic design is clean, leaving ample space for the props and music to shift the mood as necessary. The show explores the complex and often disturbing reasons behind these acts, offering a thought-provoking examination of American history and the American Dream. The characters, ranging from John Wilkes Booth (Miles Jacoby) to Lee Harvey Oswald (Robi Hager), share their stories, grievances and justifications, shedding light on the dark underbelly of the American experience.

Nolen's stellar cast effectively humanize these historical figures, rendering them surprisingly relatable if not truly sympathetic. They also bring strong vocals and unique interpretations to Sondheim's awesome score. Jacoby has a magnetic yet unsettling gravitas as bitter John Wilkes Booth. Jacoby and Hager sent chills down my spine with the powerful "Ballad of Booth," but the pair don't really reveal the depth of their characters' dark sides until the end of the play. Hager's performance in that last scene is riveting.

The hilarious couch conversation between Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Katherine Fried) and Sara Jane Moore (Monica Horan) is another one of my favorite moments. The consistently funny Horan initially comes off as maternal but spacey, until she reveals herself to be completely insane. Fried displays an impressive range within the production. Haughty and humorous in her interactions with Horan, desperate and pitiful in the bizarrely gorgeous duet "Unworthy of Your Love" she sings with Harrison Smith (as John Hinckley), and entirely convincing as Emma Goldman in a deeply moving exchange with Christopher Patrick Mullen (as Leon Czolgosz). Smith gives a disturbing incel vibe to Hinckley that is remarkably effective. Mullen is the most sympathetic of the motley crew and his bottle-making monologue itself is well worth the price of admission.

Thom Weaver's dynamic lighting design delineates scene changes and temperament shifts–an essential element for a musical where the characters shift rapidly between dark resignation of imminent death and carnival-like enthusiasm. The costume designs by Maiko Matsushima are flawless and Elizabeth Atkinson's sound design is excellent.

A riveting history lesson and a phenomenal musical theatre experience, this production of Assassins is utterly captivating. Get your tickets for this one before it's gone for good.

Assassins has been extended through October 22, 2023, at Arden Theater Company, 40 N 2nd St, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please visit, call 215-922-1122, visit at the box office.

Katherine Fried: Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme
Scott Greer: Samuel Byck
Robi Hager: Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald
Darren Michael Hengst: Giuseppe Zangara
Monica Horan: Sara Jane Moore
Miles Jacoby: John Wilkes Booth
Christopher Patrick Mullen: Leon Czolgosz
Steve Pacek: Charles Guiteau
Matteo Scammell: Proprietor
Harrison Smith: John Hinckley

Terrence J. Nolen: Director
Paige Hathaway: Scenic Design
Thom Weaver: Lighting Design
Maiko Matsushima: Costume Design
Elizabeth Atkinson: Sound Design
Jorge Cousineau: Video Design
Ryan Touhey: Music Director/Orchestrations
Zuhairah McGill: Assistant Director