Just as the White House wasn’t built in a day, neither was the SVSU production of “Assassins.”
The musical’s director, Richard Roberts, worked on his vision for the musical for at least 14 months, a point that emphasizes the complexities of musical theatre.
“I had a student one time tell me, ‘Musical Theatre is ‘Fluff!’ I can assure you, it is one of the hardest genres of theatre there is,” Roberts said. “The coordination of traditional theatrical elements are difficult as it is, but then add the musical coordination of your cast and a 24-piece orchestra. Well, that is not what I would call ‘fluff.’”
This musical finds different assassins and attempted assassins contemplating why they hoped to kill a United States President and the ramifications of their actions.
Besides the time it took to craft the vision for SVSU’s production of “Assassins,” the time and effort to actually bring it to stage further reveals the difficulties in creating a musical.
“The hardest parts are the coordination of all the traditional theatrical elements with additional music, vocal and movement elements,” Roberts said. “This is all done in the same rehearsal time as a traditional show without all those elements.”
Despite these challenges, Roberts believes that the collaboration of the theatre and music departments helped the musical run smoothly.
“At many universities around the country, the music and theatre departments do not get along at all,” Roberts said. “I am blessed to work at SVSU, where cross-departmental collaboration is not only smiled upon but encouraged.”
The cooperation between the different departments certainly paid off during the show’s opening night performance. The orchestra balanced well with the singers, and the two elements struck a natural and complementary balance, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the audience members.
“I really enjoyed how the singing and instruments came together,” said Aubrey Snyder, a freshman business major. “One element didn’t bury the other one, and it made the songs very enjoyable.”
Both the spoken and sung dialogue were delivered nearly flawlessly by the performers. Each actor was well articulated and easy to hear even when the orchestra would crescendo into louder sections of music.
“I could hear the lyrics really clearly,” said Taylor Stockton, an SVSU freshman “I especially enjoyed (John Wilkes) Booth’s ballad. The actor showed a lot of emotion, but it wasn’t overdone.”
Despite the pleasure that most audience members found in the musical numbers, sophomore and theatre major Joseph Green, who portrays Lee Harvey Oswald, notes that these numbers are often difficult to perfect.
“One hard aspect of acting in a musical is that nearly everything is to music, so a lot of characterization is done through the music instead of directly by the actor,” Green said. “I enjoy acting in musicals because it’s a different style of theatre that takes an entirely different set of skills to master.”
Playing such a well-known figure in American history was also challenging for Green. Because of that, Oswald was an easy character to connect with but difficult to portray in a positive light.
“The most difficult part of bringing (Oswald) to the stage is trying to get the audience to not see him as a killer first,” Green said, “but rather an everyday American that feels ignored and unwanted and to have the audience almost understand why he might have killed Kennedy.”
Despite trying to make the assassins more humane, the actors and director still expect the audience to question them and their actions.
“What I see in ‘Assassins’ is that those who are disenfranchised in American society often find a way to make their mark, even if it is notoriously,” Roberts said. “I don’t agree with this personally at all, but, in an ‘I want to be famous’ culture, I can see how it can happen.”
This viewpoint directly affects the message the cast and crew want audiences to understand.
“There is a lyric in the song ‘Ballad of Booth’ that goes, ‘Every now and then a madman’s bound to come along. Doesn’t stop the story–our story’s pretty strong,’” Roberts said. “I hope everyone can see that, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, no matter what happens, we as a nation continue.”
Despite the challenges America then and America now faces, the cast and crew hope that this musical will teach the audience that America was and still is a country of possibilities–both for the good and the bad.
“If I could put the theme into one sentence it would be: There is a critical difference between the right to happiness and the right to the pursuit of happiness,” Green said. “I hope anyone who sees this show takes away that America is the country where any kid can grow up to be President … or Assassin.”