Sondheim’s Assassins sounds like a show that should not work; a musical exploration of some of the United States’ most famous attempts (and successes) to kill the President. With an abstract chorus of smiling symbolic figures and FBI agents completing the universe of each storyline. It should be awful. But then its Sondheim and therefore the lyrics, music and book are absolutely sensational. It is such a perfect show for a small ensemble with such a beautiful text that it would be very easy to perform it and put all the faith in the script to carry you through. Luckily, this company do not do that at all. Assassins is possibly the best musical you will see this year not just in Edinburgh, but outside of London.
There are two moments of odd blocking for entrances and exits and the opening is a tad quiet. Some of the actors are outshone by the others. However, these flaws appear only briefly and are totally overwhelmed by the sheer magnificence of the rest of the production.
Praise must go to the orchestra and the Vocal Musical Director for creating perfect renditions of the harmonies that made me break out in goosebumps during ‘The Gun Song’ and the finale. A fantastic but incredibly difficult score is done with such ease and comfort that, having sung ‘Everybody’s Got The Right’ before, I forgot Sondheim’s preference for jarring notes and off-tune harmonies so prevalent in this song.
Special attention must be given to the performers playing Sara Jane Moore (Sarah McGuinness) and Samuel Byck (Martin MacLennan) for their exceptional performances, standing out in a cast in which in any other show they would have been a star turn. The excruciatingly handsome and impossibly charming John Wilkes Booth (Hamish Colville) and the fantastically lusty Lynette Fromme (Lucie Robathan) were also sensational and deserve a mention.
Assassins could seem disjointed, confusing and at times trite in its exploration of an unusual theme, but this production never is. The show is maturely performed and well directed to give nuanced and charming performances of the most caricatured and unkind of people.