Review: ‘Assassins’ at the Laurel Mill Playhouse

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Assassins, comes to Laurel Mill Playhouse for a murderously fun evening of theatre. This quirky little musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman, is based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr. The premise of the show is a murderous carnival game.

The cast of 'Assassins.' Photo courtesy of Laurel Mill Playhouse.

The cast of ‘Assassins’: Left to right, Stephen Yednock (Leon Czolgosz), Joe Mariano (Giuseppe Zangara), Meg Nemeth (Sara Jane Moore), Stephen Deininger (John Wilkes Booth), Morrigan Condo (Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme), and John Scheeler (Charles Guiteau). Photo by John Cholod.

It is a revue style portrayal of men and women who attempted (successfully or not) the assassination of Presidents of the United States. Interestingly, Sondheim’s music throughout the show reflects the popular music style for each era in history. This gives the show a cohesive feel as we are taken through a musical journey of passion, mental illness, politics and hate. The musical first opened Off-Broadway in 1990, and the 2004 Broadway production won five Tony Awards.

Laurel Mill’s production is a finely-tuned machine with phenomenal acting and incredible voices due to the keen casting talents of Director Michael Hartsfield, who is responsible for a highly skilled group of designers. His Musical Directors Billy Georg and Mimi Kuhn McGinniss did great justice by matching the perfect range of voices to the actors. They brought the best out of each voice both in strength, tone, and pitch. It is clear to see that these three are a match made in ‘musical theatre heaven.’

Michael Hartsfield and Tom Howley’s set design was simple, but effective.  The black walls accented with red and off-white stripes with tinges of black paint dripping down on the colors gave the appearance of blood. In the opening of the show, the Proprietor Jim Knost is positioned up center stage as a carnival barker of sorts enticing the assassins to shoot a President. He is also ever present on the stage throughout the show adding an eeriness of the surroundings. He is standing in front of a large red and off white stripe American flag with the pictures of all the Presidents who were the targets of assassinations pinned to the flag accompanied by the obligatory prize at a shooting gallery, teddy bears. The set is simple, but makes a powerful statement. And  videographer and editor Julie Rogers also contributed to the production’s visual power.

Costumers Carol Mead Cartmell, Michael Hartsfield, and Maureen Rogers did a wonderful job creating the right authenticity for each characters’ time period. The attention to detail was spot-on.

Kudos go to orchestra members, Mimi Kuhn McGinniss, Brian Simon, Kathy Hersey, and Zach Konick for an excellent job playing this very demanding and difficult score, and for not overpowering this great ensemble in such an intimate space.

Assassins Stephen Yednock (Leon Czolgosz), Gary Eunice (John Hinckley), John Scheeler (Charles Guiteau), Joe Mariano (Giuseppe Zangara), Tom Howley (Samuel Byck), Morrigan Condo (Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme), Meg Nemeth (Sara Jane Moore), and Stephen Deininger (John Wilkes Booth) were an equally believable and powerful group of actors and singers. Their stirring rendition of “Another National Anthem” was mesmerizing.

Tom Howley as Samuel Byck gives a notable performance with his two funny and powerful monologues while talking into a tape recorder to Leonard Bernstein and Richard Nixon. His delivery was given with the finesse and very Lewis Black-like.

Matt Wetzel, who portrays the Balladeer, gives an exceptional acting and vocal performance as he spins the tale of these would be killers in “Another National Anthem” (with the Assassins), and when he is joined with the beautiful tenor of Stephen Deininger in “The Ballad of Booth.”

Maureen and Stephen Yednock (Leon Czolgosz). Photo by John Cholod.

Maureen (Emma Goldman) and Stephen Yednock (Leon Czolgosz). Photo by John Cholod.

Maureen Rogers gives an assertive performance as the kind and independent Emma Goldman.

Gary Eunice (John Hinckley) and Morrigan Condo (Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme) deliver a passionate and creepy “Unworthy of Your Love.”

A notable and commanding performance was given by Daniel Santiago (Lee Harvey Oswald) as the assassins of the past try to convince Oswald that killing President Kennedy will make them more than just a footnote in history, but it will give them immortality in “November 22, 1963.”

Meg Nemeth is hilarious as the very ‘bad shot’ Sara Jane Moore, and is zany in “The Gun Song” with Yednock (Czolgosz), Deininger (Booth), and John Scheeler (Charles Guiteau).

The ensemble of actors who play several different roles throughout the production are powerhouse singers and actors as well. The ensemble is played by Jordan Essex, Brianna Scheeler, AnnaBelle Lowe, Maureen Rogers, Ron Able, Cassandra Ferrell, Stuart Deininger, Daniel Santiago, Penni Barnett, and Patrick Pase.

Laurel Mill Playhouse’s production of Assassins hits the ‘bulls-eye.’ Get your tickets now while they are still available, because it promises to be a sellout. With this great cast -it’s a real killer!

Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes, with no intermission.

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Assassins plays through May 22, 2016 at Laurel Mill Playhouse – 508 Main Street, Laurel, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 617-9906, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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