Sondheim’s Assassins Opens at Gustavus February 17

Posted on February 16th, 2012 by

The Gustavus Department of Theatre and Dance is pleased to bring one of Stephen Sondheim’s most controversial musicals, Assassins, to the Anderson Theatre stage February 17 – 26. Performances are scheduled for February 17, 18, 24 & 25 at 8:00 p.m. and February 19 and 26 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available online at or by calling the Gustavus Ticket Center at 507-933-7590.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman, Assassins is the story of 13 of the most notorious characters in American history: 13 individuals who attempted (both with and without success) to murder the President of the United States. The cast includes characters from John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald to John Hinckley, Jr., “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, all searching for the American dream, all disillusioned by their failures.

Director MacCarthy chose Assassins as he appreciates the challenges that Sondheim’s works present to actors at any stage of their acting study. In addition to those challenges, Assassins has 9 very strong and demanding leads which offer great performance opportunities for the students in the cast. The characters, all of which were real, give the actors an additional opportunity to research and develop their roles.

Assassins, according to MacCarthy, allows the actors to “think about issues of performance and social justice.”

Four of the assassins were successful. The others were not. In each case, the assassin’s delusions fixed on a thought echoed in Sondheim’s “Everyone’s Got The Right,” the song that begins and ends each performance. Everyone has the right to a piece of the American Dream. As Andre Bishop of Playwrights Horizons wrote following the Broadway premiere of Assassins in 1991, “Behind their motives….they share a common purpose: a desperate desire to reconcile intolerable feelings of impotence with an inflamed and malignant sense of entitlement.”

Some of the assassins saw their destiny in grandiose terms, “Remove a scoundrel, preserve a nation” (President James Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau.) For some, the attempt was entirely personal, “Let me prove worthy of your love.” (“Squeaky” Fromme for Charles Manson, before firing on Gerald Ford and John Hinckley, Jr. for Jodie Foster, before firing on Ronald Reagan.) They saw themselves as victims. Others saw them as crazy, mad or insane. All were angry for they had been denied their American Dream. And they needed someone to blame.

Assassins is set in Limbo — a place to spend eternity without suffering, a place where the assassins exist to tell and retell their stories and commiserate with each other for all time. The assassins never leave. The entire cast is on stage when the audience arrives. They remain on stage during the entire show. The audience is, in effect, simply dropping in on the conversations of this very unique assembly of historical figures. After a short time, the audience leaves. The assassins remain. Their story continues.

For Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, there is no rest.

The Gustavus Department of Theatre & Dance production of Assassins opens in Anderson Theatre on February 17 at 8:00 p.m. Additional performances are scheduled for February 18, 24 & 25 at 8:00 p.m. and February 19 and 26 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available online at or by calling the Gustavus Ticket Center at 507-933-7590.


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