White House hopefuls may want to steer clear of Classic Stage Company next week: Not one or even two, but three casts of the dark musical “Assassins” are massing.
The off-Broadway powerhouse is celebrating the Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman show about the men and women who killed or tried to kill the president of the United States with a unique fundraising event.
Cast members of the 1990 world premiere will join virtually with the 2004 Tony-winning revival, as well as the cast of the upcoming Classic Stage Company production for an hourlong filmed program on April 15 that mixes memories and music, exploring the show from the actors' points of view.
“To hear these different companies of actors — three generations of actors, really — communicating about the same roles, it’s a pretty unique situation. It’s not something that you get the chance to do very often,” said the company's Tony Award-winning Artistic Director John Doyle.
Other celebrities will include André De Shields, Raúl Esparza, Audra McDonald and George Takei. There will be one person participating with an intimate knowledge of the White House: Hillary Clinton.
Clinton has been a big booster of theater and took in the last Broadway performance of Doyle's “A Color Purple” in 2017. A request was put to her office and Clinton quickly responded that she was on board.
“She speaks very beautifully about the importance of the piece and the importance of the piece in our time,” said Doyle. “To hear her talk about her love for the theater and the importance of theater coming back — the importance of us being together again — it’s very meaningful, I think.”
The streaming event, “Tell the Story: Celebrating Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s ‘Assassins,’” comes a year after COVID-19 stymied the company’s 2020 shot at staging its revival, under Doyle's direction. “Assassins” is now in a holding pattern — it will be the first show Classic Stage Company will put on when New York theaters reopen. The finished set — painted and lonely — will be shown during the event.
In “Assassins,” Weidman and Sondheim present a cavalcade of real-life misfits, the desperate and the disaffected, who killed or tried to kill the president of the United States.
These individuals — from John Wilkes Booth to John Hinckley Jr. — each get a moment to explain why they did what they did. Weidman’s story follows a revue-like format as it travels along a disjointed path of American history and the quest for attention, among other themes.
Like many Sondheim-Weidman projects, it was ahead of it's time. “There was a kind of a reluctance by professional companies to touch it because I think it made them nervous,” Weidman said. “I feel as though audiences and the country have caught up with where Steve and I started. And that’s very satisfying.”
Viewers of the fundraiser will get to see the three actresses who've played Sara Jane Moore — Gerald Ford's attempted assassin — talk about the role. They'll hear the three Booths — Victor Garber, Michael Cerveris and Steven Pasquale — tell stories and sing. Three Lynette “Squeaky” Frommes and three Hinckleys will join virtually to sing “Unworthy of Your Love.” All companies will join in a finale.
Members of the 1990 world premiere include Garber, Patrick Cassidy, Greg Germann, Annie Golden, Lyn Greene, Jonathan Hadary, Eddie Korbich, Terrence Mann, Debra Monk, William Parry and Lee Wilkoff.
The 2004 Tony-winning revival cast includes Cerveris, Becky Ann Baker, Mario Cantone, Mary Catherine Garrison, Alexander Gemignani, Ken Krugman, Marc Kudisch, Anne L. Nathan, Denis O’Hare, Chris Peluso and Sally Wilfert.
They'll be joined by the cast of the upcoming Classic Stage Company production, which stars Pasquale, Adam Chanler-Berat, Eddie Cooper, Tavi Gevinson, Brad Giovanine, Andy Grotelueschen, Bianca Horn, Judy Kuhn, Whit K. Lee, Rob Morrison, Ethan Slater, Will Swenson, Wesley Taylor, Brandon Uranowitz and Katrina Yaukey.
Kuhn, a Tony-nominated actor with such credits as “Fun Home” and Sondheim's “Passion,” said she saw the Broadway production of “Assassins” and signed up for the Classic Stage Company version before she'd read the script.
“I think it really forces us to ask, ‘What is America? What is the American dream? Who is the American dream available to?’" she said. "There’s so much in it, and I think we understand it more and more as time goes on because I think we get a little bit more self-aware as a country.”
Doyle noted that the show's world premiere in 1990 coincided with the outbreak of the Gulf War and the Broadway version had to be delayed after 9/11. The Classic Stage Company version was planned during one presidential administration and will be performed during another, with a Capitol insurrection in the middle. “World events have affected all three shows, which has been really interesting,” he said.
Doyle interviewed the performers and edited their thoughts down. “It’s been wonderful to see where the actors have led the conversation to,” he said. “We’re just grateful for the people who will watch it, because I think the story is so worth constantly telling.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits