Assassins

If you’re the President of the United States, you probably get more than your fair share of death threats. However, as this 1990 genre-busting musical asserts, murder ‘is just a tawdry little crime’. When a President gets killed, it’s assassination. In the US, four Presidents have been assassinated, and there have attempts on the life of at least three more. Stephen Sondheim’s music and John Weidman’s book spins out their stories into a carnival sideshow fantasy, culminating in the one supposed act that gives the assassins’ lives meaning - the shooting of JFK in Dallas in 1963.

The broad strokes of their motives are entirely fanciful, but don’t doubt that you will learn something here. The obscure dark figures of American history are present, such as Charles Guiteau who shot James Garfield because he wouldn’t make him Ambassador to France and Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist follower of Emma Goldman who assassinated William McKinley. It’s entirely the kind of semi-educational material you’d expect an American student group to tackle, and here it’s a group from the prestigious Princeton University.

Early signs were not good. The pianist fumbled the opening few bars of the first song; the wobbly set looked decidedly unstable; the props had a worryingly handmade look about them and the lurid plastic guns seemed to suggest the Edinburgh branch of Toys ‘R’ Us had a special on firearms, with the knock-on effect that what should be startling gunshot was rendered as a artificial click. But then they started to sing. And boy, can they sing.

The company have taken the decision to perform the full work, so the show weighs in at nearly two hours. It even includes the additional number written for the London version, ‘Something Just Broke’. It’s time that flies by, however, since despite the macabre theme there is much humour at every turn. Sondheim echoes the era of each assassination (or attempt) with music of the time - so the score contains everything from bright Sousa marches, Civil War ballads, cakewalks, barbershop and many American styles in between.

The cast, as mentioned earlier, are the reason this potentially am-dram school production soars above the mundane. Alex Morton, as Lynette Fromme, is particularly impressive, as is Evan Thompson’s John Wilkes Booth. There are no weak links in the vocal line up, and additionally some beautifully detailed characterisations from Mark Watter as the nervously geeky John Hinkley and Pat Rands as down-at-heel Santa-besuited Sam Byck who has a thing for Bernstein musicals. As the Balladeer, Chris Murphy brings an almost gospel vocal to the role. It could have been horrible, but it kinda works.

Their strongest performances are when they’re focused on their individual set pieces, as some of the ensemble acting can be a bit hammy, but again it’s their vocals that rescue them with simply beautiful fluid harmonies which fill the room with Sondheim’s powerfully dissonant chords.

I would say go see them, but you’d be extremely lucky to get a ticket since their short run is already almost sold out, and deservedly so.

Reviews by Brett Herriot

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

Alba - A New Scottish Musical

★★★★★
St Andrew's and St George's West, George St

Anthems - West End Showstoppers

★★★★
St Andrew's and St George's West, George St

Fringe Fantasmic!

★★★
The Assembly Rooms

Don't Tell Him Pike

★★★★★
Paradise in Augustines

Miss Saigon School Edition

★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

The Blurb

Who would try to kill the President of the United States? This dark and witty musical by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman examines the assassins who have made history. An unconventional story that’s guaranteed to have audiences humming!

Most Popular See More

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Book of Mormon

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Lion King

From £46.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

SIX

From £39.00

More Info

Find Tickets