Apart from bloodied hands, murderers usually come away with nothing to show for their crimes. Assassins is a musical that opened off-Broadway in 1990. The music and lyrics were written by Stephen Sondheim along with a book by John Weidman. The Contemporary Theatre of Boston College presents Assassins The Musical from Oct. 27 through 29 in the Bonn Studio.
This version of Assassins is staffed entirely by students, which is especially remarkable because the production really stands on its own, even in comparison to shows that are professionally directed and staffed. Directors Jenna Corcoran, MCAS ’17, and Joe McCarthy, CSOM ’17, provide a well-directed experience, complemented by good music direction by Conor Ancharski, MCAS ’20, and choreography by Meghan Hornblower, MCAS ’17.
Assassins opens at the shooting gallery of an old-timey fairground in which The Proprietor (Anthony Underwood) leads the other characters, who even at first glance appear unhinged, in a song and dance that promises that all of their problems will be solved by killing a president of the United States. Famous successful and unsuccessful assassins from history mill about the space. Guns are distributed to those present and the armed characters fire their guns in the air at the close of the song. From this first scene, it is already very apparent that this play is not like others. All of the main characters that the audience will see throughout the following scenes are not good people. They all have killed or have tried to kill a president of the United States. It is a credit to the direction and the acting that these characters can be humorous and even relatable.
After this off-putting song about presidential assassination, the characters clear the stage and the audience sees John Wilkes Booth (Chris Losco, MCAS ’17) shoot into the crowd, killing an off-stage Abraham Lincoln, yelling the infamous line “Sic semper tyrannis!” The scene changes to Booth, pinned in a barn by Union soldiers, attempting to dictate and then write down his motives for killing the president. He claims that he killed Lincoln because the president had started the war and, in turn, destroyed the Union. His friend David Herold (Imogen Parry MCAS ’17) deserts him, leaving him with The Balladeer (Jessica Shaw, MCAS ’19). The Balladeer, who later becomes the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, tells the audience the story of Booth and describes his vision—that he was a madman who only inspired other madmen.
Assassins uses Booth as the inspiration for the actions of the rest of the cast. Booth reappears later in the play, driving the murderous inclinations of other people in history. The other assassins featured in the play include Leon Czolgosz (Lauren Strauss, MCAS ’18), an anarchist and former factory worker who shot William McKinley; Giuseppe Zangara (Alex O’Connor, MCAS ’20), an Italian immigrant who attempted to kill Franklin D. Roosevelt but instead shot Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak; and John Hinckley (James Stevenson, MCAS ’20), famous for the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.
There are a few other assassins played by other cast members who really steal every scene they are a part of. Charles Guiteau (Billy Conlan, CSOM ’20) bounces around stage, providing welcome levity and humor by making jokes at the other assassins’ expense. After killing James A. Garfield when he was told he couldn’t become ambassador to France, he gives a haunting rendition of “I Am Going to the Lordy,” accompanied by a back and forth with the Balladeer, who then hangs him. Samuel Byck (Brennan Boyle, MCAS ’17), who attempted to hijack an airplane and kill Richard Nixon by flying it into the White House, gave an excellent performance. Boyle presents a great portrayal of this obviously unhinged man. Finally, the two would-be assassins Lynette Fromme (Elizabeth Koennecke, MCAS ’19) and Sara Jane Moore (Gabrielle Esposito, MCAS ’18) practically steal the show with every scene they appear in. These two women bond over their connection to cult leader and murderer Charles Manson and then plot to kill Gerald Ford. They bring laughs to this dark story, and the chemistry between the two characters is visible from the audience seating.
The other cast members, along with the music, props, scenery, and costumes, all help to make this play all it can be. Everyone is dressed in costumes that are quite appropriate for the time in which he or she lived and financial status he or she had obtained. Booth, an acclaimed actor, wear a nice suit befitting his status, while others like Czolgosz wear dirty clothing, a costume much more suitable to his status as a poor factory worker. The music in the background definitely supplements each scene, especially the slowed-down “Hail to the Chief” present in the more somber moments. The song sung by the assassins asking where their “prize” for killing their presidents is illustrates the pitiful despair that some of these obviously unstable people must have felt after they committed these atrocious acts.
Assassins, while at times very funny and light-hearted, shows the audience the dark side of some parts of American history. It is very well done, with no small thanks due to the amazing staff and cast, and obvious hard work put in by everyone involved.
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor