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11/18/2009

The Arts

Assassins

 

The will to kill
Assassins
Through Nov. 22 at Seminole State College
100 Weldon Blvd., Sanford
407-708-2040
$10

Most people who kill generally kill someone they know. A slight between friends grows into a grudge, which swells into a rage, which finally erupts into the ultimate violent act. “Shopkeepers and lovers get murdered. … But when a president gets killed, when Julius Caesar got killed, he was assassinated,” opines John Wilkes Booth, one of the infamous historical characters in Assassins, the Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman musical.

Presidential assassins, then, often have reasons that differ from those of the common killer. Some do it for political advantage, some to redress real or imagined grievances, and some simply to be remembered by future generations, who more often than not will revile them. In the pantheon of those Americans who have attempted, or succeeded, in putting a bullet through presidential flesh, most have been to some degree mentally unbalanced.

Assassins examines the motives and psyches of several presidential stalkers who have disgraced the pages of American history via the sophisticated musical style for which Sondheim is famous – witty lyrics wed to a elegant score, a book of dark whimsy and textured characterizations guaranteed to draw provocative performances from highly skilled musical theater performers.

Director John DiDonna has assembled a young and energetic cast in his student production of Assassins at Seminole State College, and the results are mixed. While most of the acting is exemplary (especially that of Michael Sapp as Samuel Byck, the man who wanted to crash a 747 into Dick Nixon’s White House), DiDonna and his crew did miss some of the black humor at the heart of Weidman’s book, as well as some of the pathos of the story’s disturbed and misunderstood loners. And while several cast members offer strong vocal performances, backed by musical director Don Hopkinson’s talented ensemble, not all of the singers have been able to master the difficult score. Standouts include Charles J. Guiteau (Kevin Sigman), the smiling madman who brought down President Garfield; “Squeaky” Fromme (Jolie Hart), the bungling flower child who tried to do in Gerald Ford; and the aforementioned John Wilkes Booth (Cory Boughton), Lincoln’s assassin.

Still, Assassins is a beguiling work, mostly because it presents an outlandish menagerie of twisted crazies hell-bent on their own particular murderous pursuits.

arts@orlandoweekly.com
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