Cast size: Small, 11 plus Book by: John Weidman Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim Music by: Stephen Sondheim Based on an original idea by Charles Gilbert
Classification: Comedy Contemporary Setting Drama Historical Period Piece

John Weidman | American Broadway | small 11 plus

  • About the Show

    Bold, original, surreal, disturbing, thought-provoking and alarmingly funny, Assassins is perhaps the most controversial musical ever written.

    This most American of musicals lays bare the lives of nine individuals who assassinated or tried to assassinate the President of the United States, in a one-act historical revusical that explores the dark side of the American experience. From John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman bend the rules of time and space, taking us on a nightmarish rollercoaster ride in which assassins and would-be assassins from different historical periods meet, interact and in an intense final scene inspire each other to harrowing acts in the name of the American Dream.

    An intimate acting piece for a largely male ensemble cast, Assassins contains some of the finest scene writing in recent memory as well as a brilliant, melodic score which pastiches American music throughout the ages, from folk to ragtime to 1970s soft rock. Its modest production requirements and educational qualities make it a perfect show for schools and smaller theatre companies. Its daring makes it ideal for any group looking for a unique, challenging theatrical experience.

    Opened December 18, 1990 Original off-Broadway production ran for 71 performances; 2004 Broadway production ran 101 performances.

    This show may have licensing restrictions in some areas.

    Some content © MTI Enterprises, Inc. d/b/a Music Theatre International. Used by permission. Portions © Respective Trademark Holders. All rights reserved.

    Synopsis

    Assassins opens in a fairground shooting gallery, with calliope music playing. Amidst flashing lights, we see a series of male target figures, dressed in the fashions of the past two hundred years, trundle by on a conveyor belt. The fair's prize shelf, in addition to the usual array of stuffed toys and souvenirs, includes a sexy life-sized female doll, money, elaborate scrolled documents, books, newspapers, and fancy jars of colored liquid. The Proprietor stands behind the counter. Leon Czolgosz, a scruffy, sullen laborer in his late twenties, shuffles in sadly. The music changes to a slow, disgruntled beat.

    The Proprietor advises Czolgosz he can chase his blues away by killing a President, pointing out that assassination is a skill at which even rank beginners can excel (Everybody's Got the Right). As Czolgosz picks up a gun, John Hinckley, a soft, plump, 21-year-old, ambles aimlessly in. The Proprietor convinces him he can improve his love life and impress his dream girl by shooting a President. They are joined by Charles Guiteau, who enters furtively, dressed in black. His shoes are polished, but he wears no socks. The Proprietor says he can overcome failure by killing a President, and he steps up to the shooting gallery. He is soon joined by Giuseppe Zangara, a tiny, angry man, who groans and rubs his stomach. The Proprietor promises shooting a President will relieve his pain. The next arrival is Samuel Byck, in a dirty Santa suit, carrying a sign that says, All I Want for Christmas Is My Constitutional Right to Peaceably Petition My Government for the Redress of My Grievances. As the Proprietor encourages him to pick up a gun, Lynette Fromme, a small, intense girl wearing red religious robes, and Sara Jane Moore, a bright-eyed, heavy-set, middle-aged woman, enter. The Proprietor signs them up after Moore has a great deal of difficulty finding the proper change in her purse. John Wilkes Booth appears, accompanied by the faintly sinister music we heard at the beginning of the show. The Proprietor introduces him as the group's pioneer and distributes ammunition. Booth leads the assembled assassins through the end of the song, proclaiming:

    1. Rich man, poor man,
    2. Black or white,
    3. Pick your apple,
    4. Take a bite,
    5. Everybody
    6. Just hold tight
    7. To your dreams.
    8. Everybody's
    9. Got the right
    10. To their dreams.

    As the assassins take aim, we hear Hail to the Chief, and Lincoln's arrival offstage is announced. Booth excuses himself and a shot rings out. Booth shouts, Sic semper tyrannis!

    In Scene 2, the Balladeer sings the story of John Wilkes Booth (The Ballad of Booth). We see Booth and his accomplice David Herold hiding in a tobacco barn in rural Virginia. Booth knows he is about to be captured and is trying to write his justification for his actions in his diary. His statements that his actions were politically motivated are juxtaposed with the Balladeer's comments that Booth's motives actually have to do with his own personal problems. As Booth is shot by a Union soldier, he throws the Balladeer his diary, begging him to tell his story to the world. The Balladeer recites Booth's version of events as Booth shoots himself. As Booth dies, the Balladeer concludes that Booth was a madman who left behind a legacy of butchery and treason. He points out that, ironically, in trying to destroy Lincoln, Booth actually elevated him to legendary status. The Balladeer points out the futility of the assassin's actions, saying:

    Hurts a while, But soon the country's Back were it belongs, And that's the truth. Still and all... Damn you Booth!

    In Scene 3, Booth, Hinckley, Czolgosz, Byck, Guiteau, and Zangara are gathered in a bar. In the course of the scene, we begin to gain insight into each of their twisted lives. Booth continues to encourage them to become the masters of their own fates.

    Scene 4 is introduced with a radio report that Zangara has attempted to assassinate Franklin D. Roosevelt. In How I Saved Roosevelt, members of the crowd speak into microphones telling the radio audience their distorted impressions of the event they have witnessed; everyone is convinced that he or she personally saved the President's life with some seemingly inconsequential action. We see Zangara strapped into the electric chair. He sings of his refusal to be scared, stating he didn't care whom he killed as long as it was one of the men who control all the money. He actually meant to kill Herbert Hoover, but the weather in Washington was too cold. He is furious that as an American nothing he doesn't get any photographers at his execution. Assassin and crowd are both concerned with their media images. The lights dim, rise, dim and go out as Zangara is electrocuted.

    In Scene 5, we hear the anarchist Emma Goldman speaking offstage as Leon Czolgosz listens, enraptured. He introduces himself to her after the speech and declares he is in love with her. She encourages him to redirect his passion to the fight for social justice. She refuses to allow him to carry her bag, saying, they make us servants, Leon. We do not make servants of each other, but he insists on carrying it anyway.

    Scene 6, Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore meet in a public park. Fromme smokes a joint and speaks of her obsession with Charles Manson, the mass murderer. She declares herself his lover and slave. Juggling her purse, a Tab, and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Moore says she is a narc for the FBI or used to be; has been a CPA; had five husbands and three kids; and suffers from amnesia. Fromme insists Manson is going to emerge as king of a new order and make her his queen. Moore is sure she knew Manson when he was much younger. The scene ends as they both give the portrait of Colonel Sanders on Moore's bucket of chicken the evil eye, then blast it to pieces with their guns.

    The next scene (7) is a barbershop quartet for Booth, Czolgosz, Guiteau, and Moore (Gun Song), in which they comment on the power of a gun to change the world.

    In Scene 8, we see Czolgosz at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, watching President McKinley shaking visitors' hands in the Temple of Music Pavilion (The Ballad of Czolgosz). The Balladeer traces Czolgosz as he works his way down the receiving line of fairgoers who see only the positive elements of McKinley's image. When Czolgosz finally reaches the head of the line, he shoots McKinley.

    Samuel Byck in his soiled Santa suit sits on a park bench in Scene 9, with a picket sign and shopping bag. He drinks a Yoo-Hoo and talks into his tape recorder. He is sending a message to the composer Leonard Bernstein, begging him to save the world by writing more love songs. By the end he is accusing Bernstein of ignoring him just like the other celebrities with whom he has tried to communicate.

    In Scene 10, Squeaky Fromme and John Hinckley are in Hinckley's rumpus room exchanging thoughts about their loved ones, Charles Manson and Jodie Foster. Fromme mocks Hinckley, saying he doesn't even know Foster. Hinckley orders Fromme to leave. After she goes, he sings of his love for Foster (Unworthy of Your Love). In limbo, Fromme sings the same song to Manson. Hinckley starts shooting at a photo of President Ronald Reagan that is projected on the back wall. The picture keeps reappearing as Fromme mocks Hinckley's inability to kill the President.

    In the following scene (11), Charles Guiteau gives the clumsy Sara Jane Moore tips on shooting and tries to kiss her. When she rebuffs him, he assassinates President Garfield. Scene 12 shows Guiteau standing at the foot of the gallows reciting a poem, I Am Going To The Lordy (which the real-life Guiteau did in fact write on the morning of his execution). The Balladeer describes his trial and execution (The Ballad of Guiteau) as Guiteau cakewalks up and down the gallows steps.

    In Scene 13, Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore are implementing their plan to assassinate President Gerald Ford. Moore has brought along her nine-year-old son and her dog, whom she accidentally shoots. The President, also clumsy, comes along, and in spite of his attempts to assist her collect some dropped bullets, Moore fails to assassinate him. Fromme's gun doesn't go off, so both attempts are botched.

    In Scene 14, Samuel Byck is in his car on the way to the airport to hijack a plane, which he plans to crash dive into the White House. He recites a disjointed litany of complaints about contemporary American life and then announces the killing of the President as the only solution.

    In Scene 15, crowd noises supply a slow, wordless lamentation for the victims of the assassins as Czolgosz, Booth, Hinckley, Fromme, Zangara, Guiteau, Moore, and Byck review their motives. They all ask for the prize they expected as the result of their actions. The Balladeer replies that their actions didn't solve their problems or the country's. There is no prize. The assassins, newly united with a common purpose, reply there is a different song stirring in America (Another National Anthem) that continues to grow louder and louder, sung by all Americans who believe themselves dispossessed by the dream. As long as it's possible for the mailman to win the lottery, there is always the chance you can get a prize. They insist:

    If you can't do What you want to, Then you do The things you can.

    In Scene 16, Lee Harvey Oswald is preparing to kill himself in a storeroom on the Sixth Floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Booth interrupts him and tries to convince him to murder President Kennedy instead. He summons Guiteau, Czolgosz, Zangara, Fromme, Moore, Byck and Hinckley from the shadows, telling Oswald that by joining them, he can at last be part of something (November 22, 1963). The assassins who preceded Oswald say he will bring them back; those who come after him say he will make them possible, by once again making assassination a part of the American experience. His act can give them historical power as a unified force, not as a bunch of isolated lunatics. Oswald refuses. Booth entices him with the statement that when Hinckley's room is searched after his assassination attempt on President Reagan, Oswald's writings will be found. Booth summons up the voices of Arthur Bremer (who attempted to assassinate Governor George Wallace), Sirhan (who assassinated Senator Robert Kennedy) and James Earl Ray (who assassinated Reverend Martin Luther King), telling Oswald that he holds the key to the future in his hands. Oswald again refuses. The assassins implore him to act so their own acts can be reborn. He can free them from being merely footnotes in a history book. They say they are his family. Oswald crouches at the window and shoots...

    In Scene 17, the shocking impact of Oswald's deed is expressed by American citizens who gather together onstage and sing a ballad describing where they were when they heard President Kennedy had been shot (Something Just Broke).

    In Scene 18, the assassins reappear in limbo singing (Everybody's Got The Right: Reprise). All of their guns go off at once-Blam!!

    Musical Numbers

    Opening: Everybody's Got The Right - (Proprietor, Assassins)
    The Ballad Of Booth - (Balladeer, Booth)
    How I Saved Roosevelt - (Ensemble, Zangara)
    Gun Song - (Zolgosz, Booth, Guiteau, Moore)
    The Ballad of Czolgosz - (Balladeer, Ensemble)
    Unworthy Of Your Love - (Hinckley, Fromme)
    The Ballad Of Guiteau - (Guiteau, Balladeer)
    Another National Anthem - (Balladeer, Assassins)
    Something Just Broke - (Ensemble)
    Everybody's Got The Right (Finale) - (Assassins)

    Casting Information

    Musical Style:
    Americana
    Broadway
    Contemporary
    Country
    Folk
    Western
    Musical Difficulty:
    Challenging to learn
    Easy to sing
    Show Cast Size:
    Medium (11-20)
    (12 Men/4 Women)
    Show Chorus Size:
    Small
    Show Dance Required:
    Minimum
    Notes:
    Predominantly men
    Children in cast
    Character Breakdown:
    JOHN WILKES BOOTH (1838-1865) Assassinated President Abraham Lincoln during a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater, Washington D.C., April 14, 1865.
    Vocal Range: Baritone
    CHARLES GUITEAU (1841-1882) Assassinated President James Garfield in the waiting room of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, Washington, D.C., July 2, 1881. Dashing but mad.
    Vocal Range: Baritone/Tenor.
    LEON CZOLOGOSZ (1873-1901) Assassinated President William McKinley during a public reception at the Temple of Music Pavilion at the Pan American Exposition, Buffalo, N.Y., September 6, 1901. Poverty-worn young radical (pronounced Chole-gosh).
    Vocal Range: Baritone/Bass
    GIUSEPPE ZANGARA (1900-1933) Attempted to assassinate President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt greeted well-wishers in Bayfront Park, Miami, February 15, 1933. Angry, heavily-accented immigrant.
    Vocal Range: Must hold an A.
    SAMUEL BYCK (1930-1974) Attempted to assassinate President Richard Nixon; hijacked a commercial jetliner which he intended to crash dive into the White House, Baltimore-Washington International Airport, February 22, 1974. Hysterically irate schlep in a Santa Claus suit.
    LYNETTE "SQUEAKY" FROMME (1948- ) Attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford as he left the St. Francis Hotel, Sacramento, CA., September 5, 1975. Pixie hippie in love with Charles Manson.
    Vocal Range: Mezzo
    SARA JANE MOORE Attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford as he left the St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco, CA., September 22, 1975. Frazzled housewife
    Vocal Range: Soprano
    JOHN HINCKLEY (1955- ) Attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan as he left the Washington Hilton, Washington, D.C., March 30, 1981. Depressed college student
    Vocal Range: Baritone/Pop Voice.
    LEE HARVEY OSWALD (1939-1963). Assassinated President John F. Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963. Dejected shipping clerk planning suicide (killed Kennedy, 1963) Non-singing
    BALLADEER A Woody Gutherie/Peter Seeger-style folk singer. Should be able to play guitar, folk tenor.
    EMMA GOLDMAN Turn-of-the-century Anarchist agitator and feminist.
    THE PROPRIETOR Of a shooting gallery at a carnival.
    DAVID HEROLD One of John Wilkes Booth's confederates; aided Booth in his attempted escape.
    A BARTENDER
    SARA JANE MOORE'S 9-YEAR-OLD SON, BILLY
    PRESIDENTS JAME GARFIELD and GERALD FORD
    REPORTERS
    PHOTOGRAPHERS
    TOURISTS
    BYSTANDERS

    Rehearsal Set

    20 Libretto-Vocal Books 2 Piano-Vocal Scores
    1 Study Guide

    Orchestration

    1 Full Score (Set)
    1 Reed I
    1 Reed II
    1 Trumpet
    1 Trombone
    1 Percussion
    1 Keyboard I
    1 Keyboard II
    1 Guitar
    1 Bass

    Resources

    Full Score
    Study Guide

Partners & Associates

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