Updated: Mar 8, 2019
Photo Credis: Kris Mayeshiro @km2creative.com
★★★★½ - Delicious
Stephen Sondheim’s musicals have entertained and fascinated for years. With few exceptions, if it’s a Sondheim show it’s a hit. His lyrics always carefully move the story arc and build character at the same time, his music is always deeply layered and usually difficult to sing. “Assassins,” with a book by John Weidman (based on an idea by Charles Gilbert) is rather more of a revue than a typical musical, and a dark-comedy vaudeville one at that.
For its original run, previews sold out indicating the draw of a Sondheim work but Frank Rich noted in his NY Times review, “Assassins will have to fire with sharper aim and fewer blanks if it is to shoot to kill.” Yet, the show, reworked, has been a staple around the globe and won both the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Best Revival of a Musical in 2004.
Currently kicking off 2019 at Las Vegas Little Theatre (LVLT), directors Walter Niejadlik and Gillen Brey have assembled quite a talented onstage ensemble. From all appearances, the entire production team came together as an ensemble, as well. From Ron Linblom’s wondrous two-story set to Candice Wynant’s superb costume choices for each required period everything melds into a perfected melody. Even the sound design by Mike Olsen lends credence with an Emma Goldman (played with finesse by Tiffany DeStenfano) speech with a microphone effect that cuts in and out.
Backed by a 13-piece orchestra under the direction of Toby McEvoy, 17 new and familiar faces grace the stage giving voice to Sondheim’s notes. There are some standout performances, as there always are in any given production.
April Sauline as the Balladeer ties the vignettes together and finds the heart behind the comedic. Two newcomers to the LVLT stage, Stephan Maeder playing the lovelorn John Hinckley and Lucy Angelo giving life to oddball Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, combine their voices for a beautiful “Unworthy of Your Love.” Maeder brings a hang-dog attitude to his portrayal of Hinckley and actually makes one begin to feel sorry for him.
Though Angelo’s high range hit a few flat squeakers in the solo portions, her portrayal throughout the show was thoroughly engaging. In scenes with Halle Lyons, as Sara Jane Moore, both Angelo and Lyons made a great pair of failed presidential killers. Lyons has a wonderful time as Moore, the verbal timing and physical comedy rolls easily.
Another newcomer, Meric Barkey Lewis Pittman immediately grabs attention with a deep rich baritone even in speaking. His statesman-like portrayal of Leon Czolgosz brought a dignity to the man who killed William McKinley, yet the sense of his social awkwardness is always there.
The failed attempt on Richard Nixon’s life is brought hilariously to life by Jacob Moore. Though Moore doesn’t get a solo or duet to sing he provides a steady, complete drunken, beer-swilling Samuel Byck to life in a pair of solo scenes.
The ensemble numbers are well staged and choreographed, scene changes are smooth and rapid. Nothing feels out of place, each beat of the show hits on target.
You might wonder how a show about killers and would-be killers of presidents could be funny. But “Assassins” is a political sideshow spanning the centuries, from Lincoln to Reagan, as noted in the ensemble-performance of “Another National Anthem,” bringing outcast miscreants together to humorous effect, and this production hits the right notes.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday - Saturday;
2 p.m. Sunday ( additional 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan 26)
Through February 3
Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff drive
Tickets: $22 - $25 (702-362-7996; www.lvlt.org)
Producer: Las Vegas Little Theatre; Directors: Walter Niejadlik, Gillen Brey; Musical Director: Toby McEvoy; Choreographer: April Sauline; Set Design: Ron Lindblom; Lighting Design: Ginny Adams; Sound Design: Mike Olsen; Costume Design: Candice Wynants; Wig Design: Betty Sullivan-Cleary; Stage Manager: Cindy Lee Stock; Running Crew: Ernest Medina, Chris von Uebbing