Theater Review: ASSASSINS (East West Players)

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by Tony Frankel on March 16, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles


The cast is quite terrific with some extraordinary standouts in East West Players’ revival of Assassins, but it is Snehal Desai‘s awesomely inventive staging (and Preston Mui & Jasmine Rafael‘s movement direction) that betters John Doyle and his recent Off-Broadway outing. Not withstanding the company’s incredible commitment to the material, this production — as with Doyle’s and many others — highlights both the strengths and weaknesses in this (no-longer) rarely performed Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical. The strengths include sharp characters and fabulous, sticky tunes with clever, eviscerating lyrics; the weaknesses are a lack of narrative surprise and the inability of the material to offer many true insights into the minds of those who want to kill a president.

The cast of ASSASSINS
Thance Thompson as John Wilkes Booth and Adam Kaokept as the Balladeer

Assassins ushers together the horde of maniacs who have succeeded or made attempts on the lives of U.S. Presidents, seeking to examine their varying degrees of sanity, as well as their motivations. A proprietor entices each character to try their hand at shooting a president, then invites us to witness each of their individual stories. A Balladeer is a more central narrator, providing the only sane voice on stage until he transforms into Lee Harvey Oswald and the other assassins convince him to join them. The book has great moments, but it’s really just a series of sketches. Normally, the show is staged as a shooting gallery at a carnival, but at this mid-size house, the entertainment is presented on Anna Robinson‘s brilliant curio shadowbox set with moving doors and multi-platformed playing areas,

Joan Almedilla as Sara Jane Moore and Astoncia Bhagat Lyman as Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme
Gedde Watanabe as Charles Guiteau

And is it ever thrilling to see a stage full of talent! What a relief from the small casts that theaters use to save money. The show is very well sung, backed by Marc Macalintal‘s excellent five-piece band (with euphonium!), and dotted with many stellar performances. EWP’s Assassins is a good deal of fun, and well-worth catching.

Arvin Lee as John Hinckley Jr and Astoncia Bhagat Lyman as Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme
Arvin Lee, Aric Martin, and Adam Kaokept

photos by Steven Lam

East West Players
David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso Street
Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 5
ends on March 20, 2022
for tickets, call 213.625.7000 or visit East West Players

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