Where else would the Roundabout Theatre Company open their revival of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, which features the likes of Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley and John Wilkes Booth, but in the Booth Theatre, named for John's actor brother Edwin? Assassins, originally an Off-Broadway musical at Playwrights Horizons ten years ago, takes its first official Broadway bow Nov. 29.
Joe Mantello (Design For Living) helms the staging, as he did the June 2, 2000, Roundabout reading. Michael Starobin will do orchestrations. No cast has been announced, but the developmental readings featured Neil Patrick Harris (Balladeer/Oswald), Michael Hall (John Wilkes Booth), Becky Ann Baker (Sara Jane Moore), Lisa Loeb (Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme), Stephen Spinella (Charles Guiteau), Brian D'Arcy James (Giuseppe Zangara), Paul Kandel (Proprietor), John Dossett (Leon Czolgosz), Matt McGrath (John Hinckley) and Mario Cantone (Samuel Byck). The reading featured one character less; Off-Broadway, the Balladeer and Oswald were played by different actors.
The 1991 musical, seen in a sold-out Off-Broadway run at Playwrights Horizons, traces the stories of people who killed or tried to kill American presidents throughout history. Darkly comic, Assassins visits forgotten murderers like the wannabe anarchist Czolgosz who killed William McKinley to the infamous assassins Booth, who shot Abraham Lincoln and Oswald, who killed John F. Kennedy. The assassinations are visted through various ballads: the light Sousa march-inspired "How I Saved Roosevelt," the folky "Unworthy of Your Love," in which Fromme and Hinckley express their devotion to Charles Manson and Jodie Foster, and the uptempo traditional theatre song, "Everybody's Got the Right to Be Happy," a defense by the assassins for their crimes, as well as vignettes and scenes where the various killers and attempted murderers come in contact with another. Fromme and Moore, who will both try to kill Gerald Ford, talk over a bucket of chicken before Moore tries to kill the president. Sam Byck, a crazed taxi driver who sent taped monologues to various luminaries — including Leonard Bernstein — before plotting to drive a plane into Richard Nixon's White House, delivers hate speech from his cab. In the harshest and most tense scene in the musical, all the assassins before and after Oswald appear in the Texas Book Depository to convince the unknowing clerk that he must shoot Kennedy.
A song called "Something Just Broke" was added to the score when the show made its British debut (and is not heard on any recording). The number, directly following the Oswald scene, brings the show, which could be seen as skewed towards the assassins' perspectives, back to the realm of the American people. In the number, various men and women remember the every-day activities they were doing when they first heard that Lincoln was dead, that Kennedy had been assassinated and that Reagan had been shot. "Something Just Broke" was heard in the 2000 workshop reading.
The creative team for the June 2, 2000, reading included musical director Paul Gemignani, assistant musical director Paul Ford and assistant director Trip Cullman and casting-artistic development director Jim Carnahan.