Tuesday October 17th 2017


There is no question about my love for musicals written by Stephen Sondheim. I will make time to see one, even when I am not asked to review. Even the fact that I have seen them over and over, almost memorizing each magical syllable will not deter me from attending a Sondheim musical. I know that I am not alone. People love ( or hate) his works and some just go with the punches , as they say. One of his works, a lesser known work , which doesn’t get the play like “Sunday In The Park With George” or “Into The Woods”,”Company”,”A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”, “A Little Night Music” or the many others,”Assassins” with a book by Johnn Weidman is now playing in Chicago at The Viaduct Theater on Western Avenue. This is a play that is not as familiar to many theater goers, even those who adore Stephen’s work and is being done by a brand new theater company, that calls itself  Billy Pacholski Presents ( a little vanity company) that has some incredible talent and an Artistic Director, who also is the director of this production, who grew up loving live theater and it shows in the production staff that he has assembled, to create this very special musical that deals with a subject that is difficult to comprehend.

“Assassins” is far from your typical musical, but after all, it is Sondheim! Its topic deals with man’s frustration with Presidents of the past and the plan ( or lack of plan) to assassinate them. What a time for such a story as we go into another election for our President asking the question, “To  re-elect or not re-elect, that is the question”. With all that has taken place over the years, and as this story tells, us perhaps one person is fed up with their lives enough to tackle taking on this task in what they feel is a way to “save the country”. The dreams, hopes and aspirations of the average man can be affected by the leadership of a country and in this series of “dream-like” narratives that kind of take us into the lives and minds of these  “Assassins” ( or would be) to show us just how powerful a confused mind can take an individual.

While this subject matter is weird, we do know of people who are like these particular characters ,who are in fact real people. While their stories are not true to the facts, with the writers taking poetic license, and the words that Sondheim has created for them is “pure Sondheim”, this 100 minute romp of a history lesson allows us to be entertained by a subject that may not otherwise be found entertaining. Even the song titles are unusual- “The Gun Song”, “How I Saved Roosevelt”, “Unworthy of Your Love” ,”Everybody’s Got The Right” and “Something Just Broke”- none of these have much meaning until you see them performed in this wonderful production. There is no doubt that Pacholski knows this piece well and with the aid of musical director Robert Ollis has worked hard with their strong cast. The Viaduct is a comfortable space for viewing theater but not the best spot for a musical as the ceilings are high and the sound can get lost in the rafters. This is a new company, so having body mikes is not something to be in position to do on a first offering. Perhaps in the future, they will be able to do this or design the set so that there is a barrier between singers and orchestra. Nonetheless, there were only a few spots where the performers did not “play to the back row”.

“Assassins” is not an easy show to perform in as Sondheim’s lyrics are in many cases, tongue twisters and his musical range can go from low to high notes in the same measure, but this cast handles it to perfection. Kevin Webb is a divine John Wilkes Booth with great facial expressiveness. Sam Button-Harrison takes on the dual roles of the Balladeer who narrates portions of the story and then at the very end, deftly handles another three named character,Lee Harvey Oswald. So here, you have the first and the last with lot sof attempts in between.

One of the highlight performances for me was watching Edward Fraim take on the role of Charles Guiteau. Fraim has a strong voice and a super comedy sense. He brought this character to new heights ( at least for me). Other characters represented; Kris Hyland as Guiseppe Zangara, Aram Monisoff as Leon Czolgosz, Ed Rutherford as John Hinkley,Jr ( who did not succeed with Raegan), the incredibly funny Nick Druzbanski as Sam Byck ( this is his first Chicago theater production, a tough role at that and he is hysterical- welcome to Chicago) and the two female “Assassins” ,Lynette “Squeaky Fromme played by the delightful Kiley B. Moore and Sarah Jane Moore ( played to absolute perfection by the very funny Libby Lane. I am in hopes we will see more of her in future productions throughout the city.

While these are all strong performers, this musical needs an ensemble to make it truly work and what an ensemble they have assembled. From the rich tones of Michael Swisher who sets the tones of the show as the Gun Seller, Parker Guidry, Natalie June,Morgan Glynn Briggs, Jameson Wentworth to young Joey Eovaldi ( who plays all the kids parts) each voice and movement is sheer Sondheim, performed as he would want it- with heart! Danny Starr’s choreography is simple enough to move the actors as they should and the costumes by Chris Tuttle are amazing for a new company. The set( Nick Passafiume) is arranged for audience members to be on three sides and the use of a number of boxes which are simple, but work!. The sound (Peter Storms) and lighting (Kelly Lasley) add to the touches and the projections (Ryan Fukuda production/design by  Frank Mares)) are wonderful. One change I would make s that the screen is made to be an American Flag that has been withered by the storms it has faced, but with the open areas makes some of the projections look funny. The props, including some major guns(Nick Heggestad)) are one of the glowing touches.  sparkling first production for this new company, which will face them with another challenge ( this show is to many , just that a challenge); following up! They will truly have their work cut out for them!

“Assassins” will continue at The Viaduct Theater located at 3111 N. Western Avenue ( just south of Belmont on the east side of the street) through November 10th with performances as follows:

Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. ELECTION NIGHT ONLY with a special RECEPTION cost $100 for this one

Thursdays , Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $45  for yours call 312-212-3470 or visit www.Assassins-Chicago.com

There is some street parking in the area ( non-metered) and a $5 lot on the Southwest corner of Belmont and Western ( entrance heading south on Western from Belmont)

To see more, visit my home page, go to theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click on “Assassins”

photos by David Turner


Leave a Comment


More from category

“Billy Elliot, the Musical”
“Billy Elliot, the Musical”

Tonight was a very special one. Porchlight Music Theatre, beginning its 23rd season in Chicago , opened its production [Read More]

“Hard Times”
“Hard Times”

Highly Recommended **** As Lookingglass Theatre embraces its 30 seasons of bringing quality theater to Chicago, they [Read More]

“”The Making of a Modern Folk Hero” reviewed by Carol Moore
“”The Making of a Modern Folk Hero” reviewed by Carol Moore

Recommended **** Other Theatre’s “The Making of a Modern Folk Hero” is a modern cautionary tale, a sharply [Read More]

“Dracula”   The Hypocrites
“Dracula” The Hypocrites

Somewhat Recommended ** Over the years (in fact 20 years), I have watched the work of Sean Graney and his Hypocrites [Read More]

Destinos  -“Growing up Gonzales”
Destinos -“Growing up Gonzales”

Highly Recommended **** The 1st Chicago International Latino Theater Festival is here! Unlike the Goodman Latinofest of [Read More]