For everyone who's thinking about assassins today
, I offer up Sondheim and Weidman's take
Opening off-Broadway in 1990 and revived in 2004, Assassins, by Stephen Sondheim
and John Weidman
, uses the setting of a carnival shooting gallery to introduce a revue-style portrayal of some of the men and women who attempted (successfully or not) to assassinate Presidents of the United States.
A commentary on disenfranchisement and powerlessness, hopes and dreams, high expectations and false promises, motivations and consequences, and American culture, Assassins is still one of the most controversial musicals
produced in the U.S.
The music of each song
reflects the popular music of the specific era depicted, but also provides a point of view on the action. The cheeriness of the music to "Everybody's Got the Right"
[to be Happy] contrasts with the disillusionment of the assassins singing it. The music (and opening lyrics) to "Unworthy of Your Love"
sounds like a simple Burt Bacharach-style ballad, but sung John Hinckley and Lynette Fromme to Jodie Foster and Charles Manson, it becomes a chilling illustration of their passions and their feelings of hopelessness.
By developing the characters of historic assassins, Assassins prompts audiences to consider their motivation. Scott Miller writes
that "This is a very smart, very insightful piece of theatre about what's wrong with America -- too many guns, too much anger, a bullshit American Dream continually promised but never delivered upon, and a culture crazy in love with violence. This is a country built on guns, won with guns, and now killing its own children with guns ... Most notably, most of the assassins (Booth being a major exception) led very sad, very lonely lives that left them feeling left out of the American Dream, disenfranchised, ignored, betrayed by their country."
From the moment we hear "Hail to the Chief" in 3/4 time - the wrong meter - we know things are amiss. Surprisingly funny at times, Assassins is a serious musical about nine of the people, who, through madness or political conviction, or both, too often succeeded in changing the course of history and bringing immense pain to the world.