Quill Theatre presents its first musical with Stephen Sondheim’s dark comedy, ‘Assassins’
Quill Theatre’s production of “Assassins” examines the lives of people who committed the ultimate crime and assassinated an American President- or at least gave it their best shot.
The musical, directed by Andrew Hamm, is set in a kaleidoscopic limbo, with people from different points in history interacting and conversing- and, yes, singing- with each other. “Assassins” looks deep into the motives of its cast, examining their entitlement and frustrated desire for fame.
The cast includes David Janosik, Matt Shofner, Levi Meerovich, Dan Cimo, Kenneth Putnam, Lauren Elens, Bianca Bryan, Dante Piro, Bartley Mullin, and Stacey Rearden Hall.
“Assassins” not only marks Quill Theatre’s first musical production, but is also a momentous moment for Director Andrew Hamm.
Hamm first saw “Assassins” at VCU as a student, when Gary Homberg directed the show. Hamm has done a lot of work since then, particularly as Richmond Shakespeare’s Associate Creative Director, but he never forgot about “Assassins.”
“It’s always been in the back of my mind as something that I would like to do in my future,” he said.
Hamm isn’t the only one in theater inspired by Sondheim’s “Assassins.” Stephen Sondheim, who provided the music and lyrics, is one of the most awarded artists in musical theatre, and worked as composer and lyricist on productions like “West Side Story” and “Sweeney Todd.”
The theatre community, though, has a special regard for Sondheim, and many performers hold “Assassins” in particularly high regard for its sweeping music and incisively written characters.
So, when Hamm started holding auditions, he found himself spoiled for choice.
“It seems like this is one of the shows of the Central Virginia theatre season that the theatrical community is most excited about,” said Hamm. “The level- the caliber- of performers that came out for our auditions was so good for most of the roles that we could have casted two or even three different ways and still had an even level of excellence throughout.”
The pull of “Assassins” was so strong, Hamm found that he hardly had to look for people to work on the technical and consultative aspects of the play. Instead, people approached him, excited to work on “Assassins.” Hamm finds himself both humbled and excited by this.
“It raises the stakes for us,” he said. “We feel like we absolutely have to do a good job with this show, or the entire town is gonna be very disappointed with us.”
“Assassins” focuses heavily on the psyche of its characters, and delves into what motivated people to commit such high-profile acts of violence. In preparing for the play, Hamm felt that it was helpful to compare these presidential assassins to modern mass shooters.
“Look at what people are trying to accomplish by killing a president in the past,” said Hamm. “It’s probably the single action that a lone person can do that has the most impact on the world before the advent of social media and a 24 hour news cycle.”
Comparing a modern mass shooter’s “fifteen minutes of fame” to the motives of presidential assassins was going to be the core focus of the production, but Hamm was surprised to find the context of the show changing even during its preparation.
“Right after I started working on the show, we had the unbelievable spectacle of a major party US president [nominee] suggesting that Second Amendment enthusiasts might be necessary to curb the policy of his opponent should she get into the White House,” he said.
In a way, Hamm feels like the cast of “Assassins” is a cast of villains. Each of the figures in the play committed an act of ugly, treacherous violence because they felt that their opinions mattered more than someone else’s life, that they had the right to overturn the integrity of a democratic system through murder.
And yet, Hamm thinks that the challenge of delving into such a person creates a great opportunity for art and growth. “You have to look at the characters you’re playing, the characters in the story you’re trying to tell through a lens of empathy on at least some level for there to be any sort of honesty,” he said.
And, ultimately, he thinks that his cast is up to the task. “I’ve been really really blessed to be able to work with some very talented and sensitive and intelligent actors,” said Hamm, “and they’re doing some of the best work I’ve ever seen.”
Quill Theatre’s production of “Assassins” opens on November 4th and runs until the 26th at the Firehouse Theatre. Tickets are $20 for students, $25 for seniors and $35 for adults. You can purchase tickets for the musical here. .
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