Everbody’s got the right to be happy…
Since we are looking at different shows this month with an American flair, this week’s TBT is our 2007 production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. This show gave us a different perspective on tragedies (or almost-tragedies) in American history. This show encouraged us to see beyond what we learned in school. It made us look through a different lense. It made us look at ourselves.
FROM DANIEL KELCHEN (JOHN WILKES BOOTH)
Assassins was the first MVLCT production I ever had the pleasure of being a part of.
Having graduated from Cornell in the Spring of ‘07, I had spent four years proudly representing what the rich kids from larger cities of note referred to as a “townie”. It just so happened, small town Iowa was exactly where I came from, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Our production was my second attempt to play with the genius that is Sondheim, and to put his music before an audience is a terrifying and delightful thrill, as is the concept behind the show.
As is the beauty of community theatre, you begin with a script and an idea, add a smattering of wonderfully individual misfits, a touch of conflict, a miniature budget, and a metric ton of joking and inappropriate laughter, and before you know it, the curtain closes but the friends remain.
Not only was this my first production with the troupe, but, it reminded me of exactly where I came from. A small town, a small stage, and a dangerous mix of adults willing to act like children for no pay, but the love of the process in its entirety.
At 22 I appreciated the moment. Thirteen years later I can define it. Roots. Someday, I hope to feel it all over again. Simply writing about two months in time half a life ago carries me back to the hilltop where everyone is always welcome to come and play.
FROM BRADEN JP ROOD (PROPRIETOR)
MVLCT’s production of Assassins was the second time I had the pleasure of doing the show.
I had presented it as a possibility for MVLCT and it was definitely a show that was out of the realm of what MVLCT ususally presented. I was thrilled when the board was open to trying it.
Little did they know the beast that it became!
Karen Mills & Robin Stoker decided that the audience should be on stage so they were closer to the action. A beautiful set was created a target on one wall, entrances from all over, an electric chair, historically acurate props & costumes (from 9 different eras), 13 guns and many other details that took the audience (and the cast as well) to this different world. As props master, it was overwhelming.
As Proprietor, I had moments with each assassin urging them along to their final goal–the right to their dream. I loved watching the dedication of each character and even in the seriousness of the content, we had such fun.
Many friendships forged and certainly a musical none of us will ever forget.
FROM ROBIN STOKER (MUSIC DIRECTOR)
Assassins with MVLCT was my second time doing the show. I had been in Assassins in college and became obsessed with it. Then I convinced Karen to become obsessed with it. Eventually, we stalked the show across the Midwest, trying to see it in as many incarnations as possible.
When Braden pitched it to us, we were really excited. The show itself pushes boundaries and we wanted to push even more.
As Braden mentioned, we seated the audience on the stage of what is now the Mount Vernon Middle School auditorium. We wanted our production to be intimate.
Stephen Sondheim created a intimate examination at the people who have tried and those who have succeeded in assassinating an American president. Sondheim presents these folks as flawed humans, but human nonetheless.
We wanted our audience to look in eyes of the actors playing these historical figures and try to find and see their humanity.
We also used two make-shift screens to project historical images during the show. The images, characters, and powerful music right in the audience’s collective lap made a very powerful piece of theatre.
There were stellar individual performances by SO many. Daniel Kelchen’s portrayal of the country’s first assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was particularly moving. Grace Moran, playing Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson, was alternately hilarious and haunting while attempting to assassinate President Gerald Ford. Ben Klaus played opposite Braden JP Rood as a foil, urging the assassins to think about the possible stain on their personal history an assassination would cause. There were so many fabulous performances I can’t even go on to name them all.
Assassins challenged both the MVLCT audience and the cast to open their minds.
We often talked, in rehearsal, about mental illness, poverty, starvation, terrible living conditions, and the hopes that many had when immigrating to America.
The different assassins in American history are a strange, diverse bunch. Men, women, young, old, born here, born abroad and coming for “The American Dream.
“Rich man, poor man, black or white,” the assassins, just like all of us, wanted to be seen, heard, and understood. They wanted people to “listen, listen, listen….to another national anthem.”