“Assassins” follows the U.S. presidential assassins, both the successful and the unsuccessful, who believe that the only way to achieve happiness is to kill a president — giving their lives a purpose. The musical is also set up as a carnival game, brought together by a proprietor, played by Ray Dooley, who turns the presidents’ lives into trophies to be won.
The show has a rocky start in the opening song “Everybody’s Got the Right,” which features Dooley and the nine assassins. Dooley was difficult to hear over the musical accompaniment of the song, making it difficult to understand the plot line.
When the assassins are together throughout the show, they are perfect. Although their interaction is historically impossible, the group’s chemistry is exactly how any history buff would imagine it: They are crazy and fun, yet they interact with the same comfort found between a group of old friends.
Julie Fishell and Maren Searle, who play Sara Jane Moore and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme respectively, had a chemistry that made their partnership in President Gerald Ford’s assassination attempt both believable and hilarious, even though historically, the women attempted to assassinate Ford separately.
The carnival setting, which Sondheim used to represent American culture, is emphasized by Donahue’s circular blocking choices: When the assassins were together, they were almost always staged in a circular formation — notably at the end of “Everybody’s Got a Price,” both the opening and final number, which ended with the assassins standing in a semicircle, pointing their guns in various directions.
Minimalism seemed to be the name of the game for lighting designer Charlie Morrison and scenic designer Rachel Hauck. Vertical streams of carnival lights, which light up in either all red or alternated between white and red, were delicately placed on the beams on the back of the stage. They were only used during musical numbers or after an assassin had assassinated his or her respective president.
The set was also minimal, with only two staircases, a few light strands and a trapdoor in the middle of the stage. The set’s minimalism made it more difficult to interpret the setting at first, and it wasn’t until two songs into the show, with the help of the lyrics and dialogue, when it was finally clear where the show was taking place.
Mark Hartman’s music direction was simple, yet elegant. The professional sounds seemingly hit every note in every song perfectly.