Presented by the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company and the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, this is the first time this Sondheim musical has been performed in the UK by a cast who sings, dances, acts and play all the instruments live on stage.
The action starts with a fairground vending machine that vends guns, as opposed to drinks or confectionery.
This is the first time that I have seen this musical so, without any prior investigation about the musical I sat back to be entertained. Now I know several of Sondheim's musicals and know that he loves to write dark, yet comic shows, and this is exactly what was delivered. And of course the lyrics tell a story with delicious black comedy, set to various music styles ranging from rock to country.
It's like having a history lesson about the infamous assassins, and would be assassins, throughout history, From Brutus leading up to Kennedy's killer, Lee Harvey Oswald. But how I wish my history lessons in school were half as interesting as this one.
But we soon discover that history is repeating, and will possibly do so again as the story takes in the lure of celebrity, infamy, gun culture and politics. We don't need to look too far to see that all of these subjects are just as current today, more so over the pond as they were when this musical was set.
We see dissection of the mind of the characters featured, John Wilkes Booth, Emma Goidman, Leon Czolgosz, Charles Guiteau, John Hinckley, Sara Jane Moore, Lynette Fromme, Samuel Byck, Guiseppe Zangara and of course Lee Harvey Oswald.
There is a wonderfully comic scene between Fromme and Moore, played by Evelyn Hoskins and Nottingham's very own Sara Poyzer, and also the scene with Byck, dressed as Father Christmas, played by Steve Simmonds.
Many of these names, I must admit didn't ring bells but fascinating even so. I've always been interested in what makes people tick and what triggers their actions, and this musical now has me wanting to know more about these characters. Something my school history lessons never got me fired up over.
The cast are totally engaging and tell their stories impeccably. They are also excellent musicians, several of them multi instrumentalists, and often playing two instruments at the same time. look out for the multi-tasking drumming trumpet player.
The sets are typically American with the stars and stripes bedecking the stage, designed by Simon Kenny.
An exciting lighting design, by Ben Ormerod, created a visual treat into the mix.
I can only imagine that Bill Buckhurst, the Director, not only had great fun directing this musical, but maybe didn't have the easiest of tasks because of the on stage instrumentalists, their positioning etc, and having most of the actors on stage at the same time. Great job, Mr Buckhurst.
While it teaches us of what has gone by, it also provides a warning to us for the future with the final scene, which I am not going to divulge, but the wheels seem to keep on turning......
Performed as a one act musical, I was actually really pleased at this because the flow was constant, and interrupting that flow would have done no favours. Not only that, but this musical is such an engaging one that you really do not realise that by the time the final scenes come about, you've already been there for almost an hour and fifty minutes.
Although this musical was written over 30 years ago, it has a certain freshness, an urgency as well as an ability to draw you in, as if being hypnotised. You may not remember any of the songs from this musical, but I bet there are sections that will become earworms after you've left the theatre which will have you wondering where you've heard that tune before.
So, if you enjoy dark, yet comic musicals with clever story telling lyrics, performed by a brilliantly talented cast of actors, singers and musicians, then this is the show for you.
"Assassins" is killing it at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 16 November.