“Assassins” – Stray Cat Theatre

Theater Review – May 9, 2022


Stray Cat Theatre, Studio Theatre, Tempe Center for the Arts
Tempe, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

An amazing cast tackles Stephen Sondheim’s rarely produced musical “Assassins” with winning results in a well-sung, strongly acted, and well directed staging of this very unusual story.  Playwright John Weidman and Sondheim, who was never afraid to produce musicals about subjects rarely presented as singing tales, gather characters from throughout American history who have desired to kill American presidents.

Set in a carnival shooting gallery where these strange and unusual people meet, the show probes both the successful and unsuccessful attempts to kill American leaders.  We learn perspectives about the perpetrators rarely included in history books.  A Proprietor and a Balladeer gather the assassinators.

The musical moves fluidly through the various historic times with ease and the challenging but fascinating score explains even more of the muddled thinking of these outcasts.  If the show has a weakness, it is that the killings aren’t fully explained so the effects on American history aren’t always detailed.

Like most Stray Cat Theatre productions, “Assassins” has a top cast of performers who sing the complex score with ease but they also create convincing characters.  With this motley collection of non-traditional thinkers, each performance gives this musical the depth it must have.  Superb sound allows every word to be clearly understood so the killers complicated justifications are distinctively presented.

Joey Morrison’s Proprietor and Vinny Chavez’s Balladeer provide excellent narration as the pair hold the musical together.  Chavez also plays Lee Harvey Oswald, the best-known Presidential assassin, and Chavez reveals Oswald to be a confused man pulled in many directions by multiple experiences before he assassinated John F. Kennedy. Damon J. Boiling is a believable John Wilkes Booth.  Libby Mueller is appropriately weird as Sara Jane Moore while Kathleen Berger stands out as Emma Goldman.  Everyone else in this cast create realistic interpretations of very distinctive people.

Ron May’s flowing staging is flawless as it moves through various historic periods with logical progression.  The tricky Sondheim score is expertly played by a six-person band under Steve Hilderbrand’s sure and steady musical direction.

“Assassins” is not the typical light and breezy musical but a mature work full of multifaceted characters enhanced by Sondheim’s rich melodies that further explain these unusual characters off-beat thinking.  A production of “Assassins” is a rare treat and this winning production is not to be missed.  “Assassins” continues through May 21.  For tickets, call the Tempe Center for the Arts box office at 480-350-2822 or order online at straycattheatre.org.

Grade: A