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Assassins at Encore Musical Theatre Company is can’t miss musical theater (review) June 11, 2016

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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Assassins-32

Photo by Michele Anliker

Every now and again, my role as a musical theater director and reviewer compels me to launch into teaching mode — and that mode was fully activated while watching the breathtaking production of Assassins at Encore Musical Theatre Company that opened last night.

See it because you owe yourself a chance to see this remarkable (and rarely produced) Sondheim musical. It is not without its flaws as a show, but it certainly is one of the landmarks of American musical theater and you should know it (things barrel along at lighting speed, and then bog down a bit in a very speechy book depository scene). While on the surface, it is about misguided people who shot or tried to shoot American Presidents, it is really much more than that — and you’ll find something that strikes you personally, from family dysfunction to mental illness and civil activism. At its core, it is about people making decisions — in this case very poor decisions — and you’ll find those decisions alternately compelling and repulsive, but never uninteresting. Sondheim has written some wonderful material for this musical, and it is a score you should know.

See it because it is one of the most professional productions Encore has yet produced. What a year this has been for this theater! And what a cast. Beautifully directed by Matthew Brennan (who also takes on the role of The Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald) and superbly musical directed by Tyler Driskill, the cast is superb. From the exceptional performance of John Wilkes Booth by David Moan to the creepy fantastic performance of James Fischer as John Hinckley, this is a cast that is in top form. Songs develop naturally out of scenes. Book scenes engage the audience and make you care about the characters, as repulsive as some of them are. Every lead and ensemble member has a specific role, a specific story to tell, and they are excellent.

See it because of Sarah Tanner’s beautiful set design, and Tyler Chinn’s wonderful lighting — the best I have seen in an Encore show. This is the first time I have seen ensemble groups and actors individually isolated on stage in their own pools of light, and it looks fantastic. Also see it because of Sharon Larkey Urick’s excellent costuming, and Anne Donevan’s property work which, both by necessity of the show, span several time periods and eras.

See it because Encore should be presenting more shows like this. If you are seriously interested in musical theater, you will be thrilled to see Encore taking a risk and producing something that will turn off some of its target audience and stop playing it safe by presenting family friendly fare. Its about time the theater has started to present some edgier material (Assassins joins last fall’s Bonnie and Clyde and the upcoming The Full Monty this fall as essential adult entertainment.) These are the types of shows that will advance Encore into a different category — that of modern music theater which spans many topics and interest levels, and will allow it to compete with every other theater in SE Michigan that has, for years, already produced edgier fare — and by edgy, I mean normal modern musical theater which is no longer designed to cater only to family audiences. The very Dexter family sitting behind me said after the show, “Well that wasn’t a show I liked very much”…and THAT is exactly why some of the members of this local audience need to be educated as to what current musical theater is about, what it says about our human condition, and how music is now integrated into drama.

Bravo to Encore for taking the risk and presenting an evening of musical theater that is breathtaking. Clocking in at 100 intermission-less minutes, it is a fascinating look at a weird slice of American history — attention has been paid.

Highest Recommendation.

Assassins continues at the Encore Musical Theatre Company through July 3rd. 3126 Broad Street, Dexter MI.  Tickets at theEncoreTheatre.org or 734-268-6200

 

 

 

 

 

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