Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
In this spellbinding musical, Sondheim and book writer John Weidman examine the dark side of the American dream through the eyes of nine people whodriven by personal grievance, festering anger, a sense that they are missing out on the happiness they are entitled tostrike back by attacking the president of the United States.
Scenic designer James Kronzer sets the surrealistic tale in a decrepit theater; to one side of the bare stagebecause this is Washingtonis a crumbling re-creation of the stage box at Ford's Theatre where Abraham Lincoln sat when John Wilkes Booth assassinated him in 1865. The bunting is dusty and faded, haze hangs in the air, light filters through the cracks in the rear wall, but the space gradually comes to life as the lost souls gather and the proprietor of a seedy shooting gallery (Kurt Boehm) hands out the weapons.
Director Eric Schaeffer has brought together a dream team of Signature regulars and newcomers to play these meaty roles. Even the five members of the ensemble, who appear in small roles and perform two numbers as a group, include two Helen Hayes Award recipients, Nova Y. Payton and Maria Rizzo.
Lest the show sound utterly grim, there's showmanship and (admittedly dark) comic relief as the assassins mingle across the decades and form a community.
Highlights of the production: Vincent Kempski as Booth, self-justifying and persuasive; Bobby Smith's manic joy and boundless confidence as Charles Guiteau, who shot President James Garfield in 1881 out of a delusion that he would be an ambassador in Garfield's administration; Lawrence Redmond's weary dignity as Leon Czolgosz, a poor workingman who, as he sees it, has to shoot President William McKinley to protest the way the wealthy abuse the working poor; and Tracy Lynn Olivera and Rachel Zampelli as Sara Jane Moore and Lynnette "Squeaky" Fromme, self-absorbed women (respectively a ditzy housewife and a follower of Charles Manson) trying to bring down President Gerald Ford. Maybe the most chilling is Sam Ludwig, who starts out as the voice of reason but ultimately morphs into grinning madness.
Kathleen Geldard's costumes range stylistically from Booth's flash and Guiteau's fastidiousness to Moore's bland 1970s ensemble. Chris Lee's lighting design incorporates both projections of historic photos and 19th-century footlights.