Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's dark musical Assassins, which was due on Broadway this fall, but almost immediately postponed after Sept. 11., will be given a one-day workshop by the Roundabout Theatre Company next week. The reading will feature the cast advertised for Broadway, including Douglas Sills, Neil Patrick Harris, Denis O'Hare and Raul Esparza, and will be directed by Joe Mantello.
There are no new plans for a production at this time, though one would imagine, given the workshop, that the Roundabout has not given up hope for a full staging sometime in the future.
In a released statement as the time of the postponement, 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.
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, who recently played 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. He is now in Cabaret.
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.