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It’s A Pleasure Hanging Out With These Assassins

Stephanie DePrez | Thursday, April 23, 2009

“Everyone deserves the right to be…happy!” These are the words you will be humming when you exit Washington Hall this weekend after seeing the outrageous, enthralling, heartwarming tale that is “Assassins.”Led by the eternal gentleman John Wilkes Booth, the motley crew of every American who attempted to assassinate the President lays out their tales of justice, passion, and love. The musical is extremely inventive, beginning with Booth (who whirls onto the stage and uses his tactful charm and undying sincerity to spin the show’s web) and dipping into the personal story of each assassin (or almost-assassin). The show moves in a take-no-prisoners fashion, plopping the audience into the middle of situations, with the only indication being the poster of the “current” president hung for all to see. (More of a figure for shooting practice, one supposes.) The characters often run into each other, blurring time and relationships in order to show the shared goals and setbacks each assassin faces. The way they interact is very amusing, and at times, becomes outright hilarious. The show plays into whatever knowledge you might have retained from your high school U.S. History class. There are witty kernels of information that the well-versed American Studies major will get, but the overall presentation is easy enough to follow. If you’ve ever enjoyed an American history class, there is no excuse for missing this delightful romp through the underbelly of our society.The cast is ready and rearing through the entire show. Each number, sincere and straight-faced, has elements that make it enjoyable. It’s easy to see the characters enjoying themselves – John Wilkes Booth is having a blast – and it’s nearly impossible not to enjoy yourself, too. “Let them cry ‘dirty traitor,’ they will understand it later!” sings Booth, completely convicted in his decision to shoot the “tyrant” Abraham Lincoln.It is the authenticity with which these characters approach their situations that makes this show so watchable. Every assassin is ready and willing to explain their decision, which they believe makes perfect sense. There is a beautiful duet between two characters who literally take a “shot at love.” John Hinckley, who attempted to assassinate Ronald Regan in order to win the heart of Jodi Foster, and Lynette Fromme, who attempted to assassinate Gerald Ford to bring fame to her lover Charles Manson, bear their souls and can’t help but garner sympathy, warped though it may be.Musicals often deal with a big “what if,” and the “what if” here is, what if all the assassins from American history met, influenced each other, and shared stories and ideas? It’s a morbid, twisted conversation, but you won’t help chuckling as you watch them carry on. The individual plots of each assassination are sprinkled with facts and creative suppositions. What if John Wilkes Booth had begged Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate John F. Kennedy? What if he knew that Kennedy’s assassination would bring interest (and glory) to every other assassination or attempted assassination before or since?The show itself is well put together and finely executed. One innovation is putting the pit band on stage. “It’s a smaller band, and it’s more exposed,” musical director Mark Wurzelbacher said. “We get to interact more than a typical musical. We’re somewhat of a character.” The music itself is also a challenge. “It’s definitely different from anything we’ve done before,” Wurzelbacher said. “All the stories are different but interwoven. It’s neat to get a different perspective on history.””Assassins” plays Friday and Saturday at 7:30 in Washington Hall. Tickets are $6 for students and $8 for adults.