A few years ago I purchased the Broadway recording of Assassins. That production brought stars such as Neil Patrick Harris, Marc Kudisch, and Micahel Cerveris to the stage to help tell some American history, but from a very different view point. A little over year ago I bought the cast recording of Sondheim On Sondheim, the Broadway revue of Stephen Sondheim’s life complete with Stephen interviews and his songs being sung. In that cast recording, he discusses his different shows. He is quoted as saying that the only production he wouldn’t change a thing in is Assassins. This past friday night, I attended Fresno State University’s opening night production of Assassins. Thank you to director Brad Myers, musical director Scott Hancock, and choreographer Royce Matthews for keeping Sondheim true to his word by bringing Fresno a brilliant production.
Assassins follows the stories of some of America’s most notable presidential assassins. We are continually flowed through the show with the strong presence of the Propiertor (executed quite effectively by Jacob Dean Sharar) and the vocal narrations of the Balladeer (played with the pleasing vocals of Matthew Freitas). During the show we meet John Wilkes Booth (a powerful leading performance by Darren Tharp), Samuel Byck (Miguel A. Gastelum, who delivers his “Have It Your Way” monologue with precision and poignant pacing), and Leon Czolgosz (a memorable Shawn Richard Pereira) among others. Each assassin has their turn to show their side of the story and why they killed some of America’s most beloved, and at times, most hated presidents.
Highlights come from Daniel Rodriguez’s (John Hinckley) commitment to Hinckley’s complicated internal struggle as he attempts to win the heart of Jodie Foster’s love. Brian Pucheu (Charles Guiteau) steals every scene he is in, and earns a well-deserved round of applause after his turn in “The Ballad of Guiteau.” Caitlin Stevenson (Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme) and Leslie Martin (Sara Jane Moore) share some great comedic moments with their scenes, including tripping President Ford over the very bullets they are about to shoot him with. Not to be outdone by the leading assassins, the ensemble has a very tender moment to shine in “Something Just Broke” and shine they do!
(Shown L to R: Darren Tharp, Brian Pucheu, Shawn Richard Pereira)
In addition to the wonderful job the production team did, I have to give major praise to lighting designer (Izzy Einsidler) for the amazing lighting design that enhances every scene and song with such power and detail, as well as stage manager (Angela Salinas) for executing the genious lighting cues. The show was smooth, and never lost pacing. Myers’ direction is fluid and to the point, just like these assassins would have intended it. Do yourself a favor and go get a history lesson at the University Theatre at Fresno State. It plays through this coming weekend. You will know exactly what Sondheim was talking about regarding this show being the show he would not change. Bravo bravo bravo. Go see a show! Bang!!