By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer
When you think of political assassinations, you don’t usually think of dark comedy and musical theatre.
But “Assassins: The Musical,” with music by Stephen Sondheim, is both of those things. It’s also a searing look at the failure of the American Dream and what that does to people. Directed by UNO professor D. Scott Glasser, “Assassins,” looks at the lives of nine presidential assassins and attempted assassins, like John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme. The play is not told in chronological order but is instead more of a “collage,” according to Glasser. The different figures in the play meet and interact with each other.
First released in 1990 in as off-Broadway production, “Assassins” was not a major success, but it later went to be produced on Broadway in 2004 and won five Tony Awards.
UNO Theatre stages a musical every other year, and this was a production that was considered in the past. Glasser was interested in the play for many reasons.
“It was very ahead of its time,” he said. “It’s a wonderful piece of theatre.” It’s also what he calls a “learning process” for those who see the musical.
With the changing times, Glasser said “Assassins” asks a very important question, “What motivates people to attempt assassination?” The answer is that the characters have a “lack of access to the American dream.” Glasser believes the musical also looks at the idea of false hope and the social significance of the American dream, and what it does to people who lose that hope.
“It’s a satire of political violence,” Glasser said. He believes this makes “Assassins” particularly fascinating for our politically charged time and a very interesting perspective on our political culture. Actor Benjamin Beck, who plays John Wilkes Booth, agreed that “Assassins” is a unique look at historical figures that audiences can strangely connect with in a way that they probably wouldn’t have before.
“It is a fascinating perspective on major historical figures that have never been explored before,” Beck said. “It is an abstract, dramatic, sometimes even comical look at significant moments in American history.”
Beck, much like Glasser, finds a lot to like about the play.
“Each assassin has a very strong and identifiable motivation,” Beck said. “They all seek the prize. They want love, revenge, respect, attention, etc. All of which are very recognizable and human desires, desires that every member of the audience can understand and relate to.”
More than anything, “Assassins” is about American culture.
“It presses a lot of buttons about American culture,” Glasser said. “It’s one-of-a-kind theatre.” It’s also a production, Glasser points out, that Stephen Sondheim is the most proud of and has said that he wouldn’t change a note of.
Actress Maggie Wilken, who plays Frome, agrees that, although unusual, it’s a play worth the audience’s time.
“This isn’t your great aunt’s musical,” Wilken said. “This is strange, exciting and full mirth. I think people will really enjoy seeing an in-your-face musical about people going to extreme lengths to achieve their dreams.”
“Assassins: The Musical” will close out the UNO Theatre’s season. Previews will run April 11 and 12, with performances on April 13, 14 and April 18 through 21. All UNO students get in free with a valid UNO I.D., general admission tickets are $5. For individual tickets, call 554-PLAY (7529), or visit the box office located in the Weber Fine Arts building on the first floor.