Assassins - New End Theatre 1997

Friday, 1 August, 1997
Review by: 
Christine Lehmkuhl

Played with no interval it is a musical that you really have to be prepared to work at and listen to. Don't worry if some of the references to former US Presidents are lost on us Brits...just accept that it must mean a lot more to an American audience (though I expect as are as clueless on their history as we are on ours!!).

This is a knockout production that gave me the same feelings as when I saw it suddenly becomes very real and in a sense moving during Lee Harvey Oswald's scene....even he, uneducated and a no-one, knew who killed Caesar, thus providing the whole pivot of the show.....the other Assassins, the sad, lonely characters we have been watching for 90mins all wanted the same be remembered for one thing in their lives.

The advantage of fringe productions is that you get to hear the singer's voices without the need for any amplification...and wow, do they blow the roof off in their ensemble numbers. Most notable was Paul Keating as the Balladeer. He look a trifle awkward at times (most noticeably during the bows) but he has such a strong voice and I thought that his youthfulness contrasted well with the other characters. The programme says he is to continue with the tour of Tommy. I hope we see more of him in the West End in future. Good to hear Peter Straker in top form...he can still send a shiver down the spine with his high register (I saw him when I worked at the Crucible Theatre and they produced a memorable production of The Wiz). Adrian Beaumont was electrifying (literally) as Giuseppe Zangara....his death on the electric chair was quite harrowing. I think the most amazing performance was from Nigel Williams who plotted to kill Nixon. A performance that sent chills down your spine.

Somehow the two female leads did not really put across the humour in their pot smoking scene but Fionna Dunn was superb in the duet with Andrew Newey as John Hinckley (perhaps the creepiest of all the Assassins, so ordinary!).

It was a superbly lit production and with only a piano/synth and percussion it really does show that you can do musicals very effectively on a small scale especially when they are so well directed. My only regret is that more was not made of the climax of the piece when Kennedy is shot. It is unfair to compare productions but I remember the stunning effect as a white cloth was released and the famous photo of his car and Jackie leaning over him was projected on it during those goose-bump inducing chords after the gun goes off. In this production we are left looking at the silhouette of Oswald with the gun at the infamous book depository window. I remember being in tears before....suddenly the whole thing took on a different meaning.

Rush along to Hampstead to see it...rumour had it that a West End transfer may be possible, but it would not be the same in a larger, and probably, third full theatre. Now a new cast album of this production is a different matter, especially if they include the song not on the Broadway recording and cut some of the dialogue that appears on the latter.


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