When someone tells you their new musical is about the life of Kennedy's killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, it's practically impossible not to draw comparisons with Sondheim's Assassins. But where Assassins portrays Oswald as a victim who is ultimately manipulated by a hallucinatory figure, this new work depicts Oswald as a victim who is ultimately manipulated by a hallucinatory figure. Hang on a minute.
Whilst there are spooky parallels between the two pieces, LHO - The Musical presents the life of Oswald through the eyes of his mother, Marguerite. The show is rich with multi-media imagery, using archival film and TV footage of the actual events to add some real depth to the atmosphere. The production company is based out of Amsterdam, and the actors - two Dutch and one American - occasionally struggle with the darkness of the subject. The score is pleasant but unremarkable, especially when it is difficult to disassociate this work with the brilliance of the Sondheim predecessor.
But there are also times when this excels. The sheer volume of research and attention to detail is commendable. The handling of the JFK assassination itself is clever and poignant, using the actual amateur film footage and showing the scene in Dallas from the point of view of the spectator who filmed it. Because of this, LHO leaves open the question of whether Oswald did indeed commit the crime, and offers Marguerite's actual testimony from the Warren Commission report. I happen to know, and know some facts, that maybe this is the unsung hero of this episode.
Oswald is played well by Jonathan Brown, the only American in the company. Sophie Van Hoytema has difficulty getting to grips with Marguerite Oswald, but curiously nails her other lesser role of Marina - Oswald's Russian bride. The third member of the team, Patrick Stoof comes across as a comic stooge taking on many of the other incidental roles, including Jack Ruby - the man who ultimately shoots Oswald to spare Jacqueline Kennedy the stress and embarrassment a trial would cause her. Whilst much effort is used to present fact and reasons for Oswald's actions, Ruby seems overlooked, and the potential to explain his connections with the Dallas Police is overlooked.