CORRECTION APPENDED: This headline misspelled the Latin noun “tyrannis” as “tyrannus.”
This story also misspelled the name of former U.S. President William McKinley’s assassin, Leon Czolgosz.
What if John Wilkes Booth sat down with Lee Harvey Oswald to discuss politics?
The nine main characters in Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Assassins” want to change an unsatisfactory society or win the attention of a girl, but somehow their intentions tragically stray to murder. The student theater group Musket presents “Assassins,” the tragic but humorous story of nine assassinations of U.S. presidents, both attempted and successful, tonight through Sunday at the Power Center.
Though Lee Harvey Oswald and Giuseppe Zangara (who attempted to assassinate Franklin Roosevelt in 1933) never met, in “Assassins” disparate historical figures advise each other. The show opens up a montage of possible emotions, circumstances and mindsets that transform a human being into a murderer.
“Someone feeling small can buy a piece of metal, and in an action so simple can become more powerful than anyone in the world,” said Stephen Sposito, director and Music School senior. “This show teaches people to listen to the ‘unheards.’ Each character believed strongly in something but weren’t heard so they did something rash.”
From the infamous John Wilkes Booth (Music School sophomore John Rapson) story to the lesser known attempted assassination of Gerald Ford by Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Music School senior Nina Sturtz), “Assassins” provides exposition on details unmentioned in fourth-grade history books.
Sposito believes “Assassins” finds a niche in the University community.
“This is a great show to do in college because it makes you think and it makes you question,” Sposito said. “Many of the assassins are also so close in age to college students.” Wilkes Booth, for example, was just 27 when he shot Abraham Lincoln.
The cast brings the reality of the human psyche to an audience expecting a happy song or two. No doubt, the diverse collection of pop music, anthems and period pieces certainly fit the Broadway style. Sondheim’s work, however, brings out morose psychological topics and does so with fantastic lyrics and humor.
“With so many different characters everyone can relate to someone,” Sturtz said. “Since the show is all about passion, you understand how these people got to this point in their lives. You think they’re just bad people but then you really get to know them.”
The limited use of props gives enough context to move the story along, but don’t set the show in a specific time or space. Rather, the characters rely on their guns, costumes and the unique chairs they sit on during offstage scenes to switch time periods.
“The show is abstract except for the character chairs, which are extensions of the characters’ costumes,” Sposito said. “Booth died on a tobacco farm so he sits on an old crate. Squeaky has a tie-dyed bean bag.”
Music School junior Amos Wolff (Charles Guiteau) said the show sheds a humanistic light on the characters you are supposed to abhor.
“You see important characters in their element, in their world,” Wolff said. “They come out at the end as heroes and it’s the one chance they have to really shine.” Even though the assassins find the glory they’ve been searching for, the audience knows it’s an empty victory. Because the assassins’ darkest secrets have been revealed, their fall toward death and torment is even more tragic. Nonetheless, Sondheim keeps you rooting for them until the final curtain.
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
At the Power Center