I just got back from seeing Assassins
as performed by the MIT Musical Theater Guild. The performance was mostly pretty good; as usual with a college show, it was a mixed bag, but there was some good talent up there (including thedan
, hilariously over the top as Charles Guiteau, lawyer/evangelist/self-promoter/assassin of President Garfield) and some imaginative staging.
I still think Assassins
is perhaps the single strangest concept for a musical I've ever heard of. For those not familiar with it, it's a Sondheim show. No real plot, per se, but an examination of the people who have, or have tried to, assassinate US presidents. They talk to each other, and are observed by the Balladeer, who comments on them.
It's an odd show, as you might imagine. It speaks of the people who are disaffected, longing for attention, or determined to be remembered in history, and who see no other way to achieve that than to kill someone.
The show has all kinds of interesting resonances in a world of terrorist attacks. The same desperation that impelled a poor worker named Leon Czolgosz to shoot President McKinley may be what motivates the Al Qaeda members and others of the world to turn their sights on the United States and other prosperous nations.
It also touches on the national reaction to events such as this. After the assassination of Garfield (things don't happen chronologically in the show; it begins with Booth's assassination of Lincoln, and ends with Oswald's assassination of Kennedy, and the rest are mixed up), the ensemble sings a song called "Something Just Broke." The people tell where they were when they heard of the assassination -- actually several assassinations, as it ends up covering all the successful assassinations except Kennedy's -- and how they felt on hearing it. I know I can relate to the sensation that something, well, broke, and the world doesn't quite make sense the way you thought it did.
In the end, though, we can hope that the Balladeer has the right of it. In "The Ballad of Booth," he sings,Listen to the stories, hear it in the songs.
Angry men don't write the rules and guns don't right the wrongs.
Hurts a while but soon the country's back where it belongs.
We can hope.