"You know the world's a vicious, stinking pit of emptiness and pain. But not for long. I'm gonna change things, Lenny. I'm gonna drop a 747 on the White House and incinerate Dick Nixon. It's gonna make the news. You're gonna hear about it..."
Samuel Byck's words, from one of two darkly comic monologues in Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Assassins, no longer seem so ludicrious or so funny. In light of the World Trade Center and Washington, DC terrorist attacks — one, in fact, aimed at President Bush and the White House — the Roundabout Theatre Company will postpone the fall Broadway production of Assassins. A replacement production will be announced at a later date.
In a released statement, Sondheim and book writer John Weidman said "Assassins is a show which asks audiences to think critically about various aspects of the American experience. In light of Tuesday’s murderous assault on our nation and on the most fundamental things in which we all believe, we, the Roundabout, and director Joe Mantello believe this is not an appropriate time to present a show which makes such a demand.”
Assassins was to have begun previews next week for Nov. 1 previews and a Nov. 29 opening at the Music Box Theatre. Tony nominee Douglas Sills, TV's Neil Patrick Harris, Roundabout regular Denis O'Hare and up-and-comer Raul Esparza were the top names in the Roundabout revival of John Weidman and Stephen Sondheim's Assassins.
Sills was Tony-nominated for The Scarlet Pimpernel after assaying touring roles in The Secret Garden and Into the Woods. In recent years, Harris has moved from TV ("Doogie Howser, MD") to Rent's Mark and, now, into the realm of Sondheim. Recently, he has sung Tobias Rag in several concert readings of Sweeney Todd, including one at Avery Fisher Hall and again in San Francisco. O'Hare, currently playing Major Barbara's fiance Adolphus Cusins for the Roundabout Theatre, also appeared in the Roundabout's Cabaret. Esparza recently received rave notices as Jonathan in the autobiographical Jonathan Larson musical, tick, tick...BOOM! and as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show. Joining them in the cast were Alexander Gemignani as John Hinckley, Mary Catherine Garrinson (Williamstown's Street Scene and Second Stage's Crimes of the Heart) as Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, comedian Mario Cantone (The Crumple Zone, Love! Valor! Compassion!) as Samuel Byck, Becky Ann Baker (Titanic) as Sara Jane Moore and John Dossett (Ragtime) as Leon Czolgosz. Matthew Bennett (Titanic), James Clow (Company) and Brandon Wardell round out the ensemble.
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 Leon Czolgosz who killed William McKinley, to the infamous assassins Booth, who shot Abraham Lincoln and Oswald, who killed John F. Kennedy.
The assassinations are visited through various ballads: the light Sousa march-inspired "How I Saved Roosevelt"; the lite pop "Unworthy of Your Love," in which Fromme and Hinckley express their devotion to Charles Manson and Jodie Foster, respectively; and the uptempo traditional theatre song, "Everybody's Got the Right to Be Happy," a defense by the assassins for their crimes.
There are also vignettes and scenes where the various killers and attempted murderers come in contact with another. In one scene, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sarah Jane Moore, who will both try to kill Gerald Ford, talk over a bucket of chicken before Moore tries to kill the president. In another, Sam Byk, 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.
Joe Mantello (Design for Living, Love! Valor! Compassion!) was to direct Assassins, with choreography by John Carrafa.
The design team included Robert Brill (sets), Ann Roth (costumes), Kenneth Posner (lights) and Jonathan Deans (sound). Michael Starobin is orchestrator (as he was for the original cast album). Paul Gemignani was to be musical director (as he was a decade ago). Frank P. Scardino was executive producer.
Within 24 hours of the terrorist attack, theatre fans were posting speculative messages on internet message boards that Assassins could not and would not be staged in the shocking new wartime environment.