Musicals have captivated audiences with infectious melodies, while simultaneously divulging on heavy subject matter for generations. The commentary on racism in “South Pacific” exemplifies how theatre can highlight discusssions of the political climate while shrouded in musical form.
Further adding to the socially conscious legacy is “Assassins,” which will see its return to City Stage this week. Originally showcased off-Broadway, “Assassins” first opened in 1990, before making its way to London and Broadway. The musical examines the motives of several assassins of presidents or would-be assassins of presidents. The play was initially brought to life through music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, with book written by John Weidman. The idea for the play came from Charles Gilbert Jr.
Grounded in the premise of a carnival game, the revue-style musical encapsulates the idea that each person had a reason for his or her actions. They saw their cause as an attempt to make the world better.
“The dark-side [of] people is when they feel so strongly about something and will do anything for what they believe,” Dallas Lafon, director, explains. “No assassin thought they were doing wrong.”
Lafon is mostly known for technical work across theatre houses in town. Though he’s also acted, light- and set-designed, this will be his first time taking over the director’s chair. Lafon admits to loving the play since the first time he saw it. “I’ve always wanted to do ‘Assassins,’ but waited until I knew the right people were here to be in the cast,” Lafon explains.
Heading the bill will be Adam Poole as John Wilkes Booth. “[He] has grown into one of the best leading men in this town,”the director states.
Also a part of the main cast are LaRaisha Burnette—who Lafron hails as one of the greatest female vocalists found in Wilmington—as The Proprietor, Jason Aycock as the Balladeer, Brendon Carter as Leon Czolgosz, Bradley Evans as Charles Guiteau, George Domby as Giuseppe Zangara, Christopher Rickert as Samuel Byck, Patrick Basquill as John Hinckley, Rachael Moser as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, and Heather Setzler as Sara Jane Moore. Rounding out the cast are Lauren Mazzola, Meredith Colon, Erik Maasch, Christopher Conner, William Piper and Aidan Malone. “People have told me I’ve really put together an all-star cast of Wilmington players,” Lafon states.
Rehearsals thus far have been high-energy. Choreographer David Loudermilkos helps with ensuring not an ounce of boredom seeps in, even if going against the grain of normal musical theatre. The focus and dedication of the cast has made the task of choreographing a somewhat dark piece a challenge he’s happy to undertake.
“This is not your stereotypical musical with lots of dance numbers,” Loudermilk explains. “My goal is to keep most of the movement fairly realistic, while giving the audience interesting visual pictures to look at. It is more similar to blocking the show than actual dance. The biggest challenge for me has been choreographing the numbers that involve holding the guns.”
Music director Chiaki Ito will bring the play’s music to life, including the staple song, “Everybody’s Got the Right.” Notorious for difficult compositions, Sondheim’s original score features challenging key and time signatures that change with each measure. The music is meant for a full orchestra, including percussion, bass, guitar, banjo, horns reeds, and strings.
The show boasts the unique quality of having the melodic stylings alter to signify each era of music the play explores. “I will be using percussion, bass, guitar/banjo, and two keyboards to cover the whole score,” Ito describes. “The lyrics are clever and witty.”
Terry Collins will be doing set design, while Calie Voorhis will stage manage, Aaron Willings will lead the lights, and John Devo will be in charge of sound.
“Everybody loves being there and loves this play,” Lafon elaborates. “Even when it gets hard you can just tell they’re having a great time. I think everyone will remember this as one of their best theatre experiences.”
“Assassins” will open tomorrow at City Stage. “Everyone is falling right into place and making the show the best,” Lafon beams.
City Stage • 21 N. Front St.
Thurs. – Sat., April 17th-20th, 25th-27th, May 2nd-4th, 8 p.m.