Theatre in the Park is traveling back in time to produce “Assassins,” a musical about nine individuals who have either assassinated a U.S. president or attempted to do so, through March 11.
The nonlinear timeline of these individuals and the planning and processes surrounding their assassination attempts gives the audience an uncommon look into the minds of these unlikely characters.
“We see each of them featured, we hear their reasons for doing it and we see them in conversations with other assassins from different times, ultimately driving home the idea that everybody has the right to the pursuit of happiness, but everybody doesn’t have the right to be happy,” said the musical’s director, David Henderson.
Henderson, who has been working with Theatre in the Park for 25 years, describes himself as having “had a long affair for a long time” with the musical. He first performed it in 1993 after being a founding member of Pauper Players while studying at UNC.
“What the show manages to do is it manages to, to a certain degree, humanize these people that feel abandoned by the process — abandoned by America in a way — and they feel that the only way they can connect or be known for anything is to do this big act,” Henderson said. “Now, especially in light of the Parkland shooting a week ago, we’re at a time where people may be afraid or nervous about seeing this kind of thing on stage. But what the theater’s able to do is to create a conversation and a dialogue around these issues — whether it be mental health, whether it be access to guns — and that’s what we should do, is create that reaction and have a dialogue around it.”
One unique aspect of “Assassins” is that it incorporates music from every imaginable genre. Diane Petteway, the production’s musical director, said that the music is notably dense and complex because of the wide range of material it incorporates.
“Every assassin comes from all different genres and all different eras, and each of them has a musical style that’s represented in the show,” Petteway said. “It’s just like a deep dive into music. The whole show has made me a better musician.”
Actress Andrea Twiss said the depth and complexity of music is the greatest difficulty of the production itself. Twiss plays the role of Sara Jane Moore who, in 1975, attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford and failed.
Twiss, who has been working with Theatre in the Park for about 30 years, said that she is especially proud of “Assassins” because there is something in it for everybody to enjoy.
“You get to get into these people’s minds and just learn more about the history of our culture and the history of our nation,” Twiss said. “It introduces you to them and lets you know where they were and what they felt and why that was their option.”
By revealing the complete journeys of these nine individuals, “Assassins” not only provides the audience with interesting, historical stories and great music, but it also sheds some light on the current political climate. The musical brings forth historical examples of recent conversations that are worth discussing.
“I think this is a real issue for our time — the issue on how we deal with people outside of the mainstream,” Petteway said. “I think we do a lot in our society to marginalize people who are on the fringe and on the outside, so this is a great way to look at a different way of seeing.”
Henderson also stressed the importance of art in the context of these conversations.
“It’s really important that younger people see pieces of art that can help that conversation move forward,” Henderson said. “I think younger people are what’s going to change that conversation, and seeing this show can be a part of that, in my opinion.”
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