Written by Alina Mae Wilson
Everyone has the right to be happy–especially the people who want to kill the president(s) of the United States. This exploration of a killer’s humanity occurs in GEM Theater’s musical Assassins. Lively, well-cast, and somewhat educational, Assassins succeeds in keeping the viewer’s attention throughout.
The opening number begins. An odd assortment of people meanders into a pub. At the same time, the barman casually serenades them with a song about the benefits of killing the president of the United States of America. As it turns out, these people aren’t just any people–they are individuals from different periods of American history, the murderers and would-be murderers of several different commanders-in-chief. They tell us their stories in song and dance while taking frequent breaks to chat with each other. Are they spirits? Are they hallucinations? Are they reflections of the natural world? That is left entirely up to the viewer to decide, though I am more inclined to favor the last option. In the Assassins program, director Beth Hansen states clearly that the goal is not “to make them heroes” or “pass judgment” but to “humanize them” (the assassins). As the stories unfold and progress, the audience sees more and more similarities between themselves and the killers onstage, the people who sank to such depths that they would throw their lives away in mad enterprises to gain attention and celebrity, whether it be for themselves or a cause.
The set was made to look like a bar, with the lighting adequately transporting us to different locations as necessary. The performances from the assassins are mainly strong, with special mention going to Alex Bodrero (John Wilkes Boothe), Tad Fujioka (John Hinckley), and Chris Harper (Samuel Byck), who is nothing if not believable as he growls his way through audio recordings. Brandon Taylor Jones (The Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald) and Gretchen Dawson (Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme) both have lovely voices, but both could stand a few touch-ups. Taylor as the Balladeer, seems almost nervous. The jittery tone is beneficial when he is Lee Harvey Oswald, but when seen throughout his performance as the Balladeer, it interferes with other possible expressions. The acting from the ensemble is also not as on point as it could be, although everyone sings the music well.
The score is not the epitome of modern popularity, but the cast sings all of the songs well. Unworthy of Your Love is one of the best songs in the whole list, Tad Fujioka and Gretchen Dawson sing it beautifully.
Guns are a huge part of this production, with loud sound effects and constant targeting of the audience as a comedic way to keep people alert. This, coupled with such dark source material, makes it understandable why there is so much controversy surrounding the show. And it is possible that people do not necessarily want to be reminded how much they might have in common with some of history’s most famed killers. This art makes the viewer curious about history and keeps you on your feet with a bang. See it multiple times.
Ticket info at the website :
Location & Dates :
12852 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA 92840
October 9 – Nov 2
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