Thursday, June 28, 2012

Broadway Score Review: Assassins (Music And Lyrics By Stephen Sondheim

To simply shake things up and have something to do during the Best Actress years, and since Sage has started reviewing albums,I've been inspired to write reviews of broadway scores. I listen to basically just broadway scores (Although I like other music as well), and I feel it's time to go back and listen to my collection over again. I've decided to start it out with review one of Sondheim's strangest and lesser-known works, Assassins.

Assassins tells the story of every person who has tried to assassinate The President Of The United States at one time or another. It's an odd topic for a musical, but it all works out brilliantly thanks to John Weidman's book and Stephen Sondheim's score. There are two recordings of this show: One from the original Off-Broadway version back in 1991 and the other from the 2004 revival (?) (It never came to broadway in the 1st place!) which came out 13 years later. Unfortunately, I have never got to listen to much of the 91 version, though I plan to buy it soon. So, this is a review of the 04 version.

Sondheim's score is a terrific one, filled with dark and complex songs. They don't glorify the assassins, simply present their actions to us and make us aware that all of the people who did these horrible things had their reasons for doing this and are human beings. I find the show quite disturbing and the songs really stay with you.It's bolstered by an incredible cast: Michael Cerveris deservedly won a Tony for his work as John Wilkes Booth and is probably the highlight of the cast. His "The Ballad Of Booth" is probably the best of all the ballads (The Ballad of Czolgosz and The Ballad Of Guiteau). Luckliy, not all the songs about the assassins are in this ballad form, though all of them are fantastic.Sondheim finds a creative way to combine the stories of John Hinckley Jr. and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Charles Manson's lover) by using a duet emtitled "Unworthy Of Your Love". This song is in a class by itself and is incredibly beautiful and unsettling. I also really like "Take It Away Lee" a setpiece in which the assassins go and convince Lee Harvey Oswald to kill John F. Kennedy Jr.

Although I think the show is very strong, it doesn't match the power of Sondheim's other works (Company, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Into The Woods, ect) due to it's small scale. But these other scores are a hard act to follow and this is still an incredibly strong character study.

Best Tracks:

Everybody's Got The Right

The Ballad Of Booth

How I Saved Roosevelt

The Ballad Of Czolgosz

Unworthy Of Your Love

Another National Anthem

Take A Look Lee

Something Just Broke(Incredibly affecting and beautiful song about the citizien's reactions to Oswald's asasssination of Kennedy)

So, overall, a great impressive work which is essential for Sondheim fans! My rating is a strong


Louis Morgan said...

I've never seen or heard this one, but I must say I am interested in it.

joe burns said...

I thought you would be! And I think you'd like it!!!

Don't you just wish we could treat the Tony's like we treat the Oscars on here? I day-dream about doing Best Actress In A Musical rankings on here! Well, you can't have everything in life! As you know!

Have you heard/like of any of his other works?

Louis Morgan said...

I like Sweeney Todd, although I have many problems with the film version.

joe burns said...

Oh, that's great!!! I like the movie myself, although I feel it could have been done a little better. More like Chicago!

What were your problems with it?

Louis Morgan said...

It was frankly overbearing in how dark it was. To lighten it up it actually could have used some nicely placed dark humor, which is found in the George Hearn, Angela Lansbury filmed stage version. I also think the leads are lacking.

joe burns said...

Yeah, I guess that's true. The leads aren't as funny as the staged version is. That is FANTASTIC!!! I'm glad you like it!!!