Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ray of Light's "Assassins"

"Assassins," the dark 1990 Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical about Americans who shoot guns at Presidents, is in the middle of a month-long run at the Eureka Theatre in the Embarcadero Center. It's being performed by the San Francisco troupe, Ray of Light Theatre, who successfully produced the ambitious Jerry Springer: The Opera last year at the Victoria Theatre.

The production, musical forces and singing cast (including Alex Rodriguez above as attempted FDR assassin Giuseppe Zangara) are all excellent, and I particularly liked Greg Sottolano (below middle), who was alternately funny, sweet, lunatic and sinister as President McKinley assassin Charles Guiteau.

My problem with the show was the material, which strives to be an important commentary on the American political condition, but delivers instead a glib overview of presidential assassins as American celebrity wannabes. There's a lot more to these people's stories than a collection of grotesque, humorous tics and the vaudeville treatment comes across as unearned cynicism.

Then there's the little matter of amplification, where I have to join Janos Gereben and Lisa Hirsch, both of whom loved the show but decried the sound. Ray of Light is a young group who probably feel musicals should be electrically enhanced because that's what they have heard all their lives, but the Eureka Theatre is way too small to require it. The good singers and small musical ensemble would have been perfectly audible without the ubiquitous little microphones on the side of everyone's faces, and the good performances would have benefited from less intrusive sound.

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