I have never seen Sondheim on stage before. I have watched the film version of Sweeney Todd and I have the cast recording of Company. I hopped over to the El Centro Theatre in Hollywood today to see the West Coast Ensemble's production of Assassins, which has been playing there since July, and will end later this month. The theater is quite small (about 100 seats), and my neighbors were glad to chat me up about the show beforehand.
I can easily say whether I enjoyed the show (immensely), how the acting was (great), what could have been improved (only a few things), but I have been trying to wrap my head around the content. I tried to identify the feeling I got from seeing it. Depressed? Not quite right. Amused? It was funny, but that isn't it either. Disturbed? Very much.
If you aren't familiar with Assassins, it is a story revolving around all the persons that assassinated or attempted to assassinate American presidents throughout the years. They all dress and act in accordance to their time periods, but interact with each other. So needless to say, watching these characters come to the conclusion they must kill a president is kind of messed up. The characters are portrayed as damaged by the world and their lives, and then along comes John Wilkes Booth (the original presidential assassin) to let each of them know that their problems might be solved if they would just kill a president (and, therefore, it wasn't their own idea, but doggone if it didn't sound like a fine idea). So needless to say, while the content of the show is tough, it is so well-written and portrayed, that you feel like laughing and being sad and angry all at once.
The cast standouts to me were Samuel Byck (played by John O'Brien), the Balladeer (cast as female Dana Reynolds), and John Wilkes Booth played by Christopher Davis Carlisle. Also, Shannon Stoeke stood out as the very angry Lee Harvey Oswald (and the Proprietor). The only things that I would improve if I could are 1) the size of the venue (it really limits the show as I imagine it could be in a larger place) and 2) the accompaniment (would love to hear it with a full orchestra).
If you haven't seen Assassins, check out this (or any) production and let me know what you think of the story!