Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by John Weidman
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
There are two pieces of American history that most Brits know - the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at the theatre - 'But apart from that, did you enjoy the show, Mrs. Lincoln?' and that of John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald. For further understanding of this musical, you need a glossary, as was provide for The Full Monty when it was shown in the USA. So do get there in time to read the programme notes. Even then, I left with a feeling of bewilderment.
It was a fast moving show, with noisy music, excellent dancing, and much rushing in and out of the many exits of the Crucible thrust stage - down the stairs, in from the sides, up through the floor, down from the roof. The dialogue was less helpful; rapid speech, strong accents, much shouting, the firing of many guns, nine televison sets, usually showing the same thing, but not always, just to confuse. But the music, coming from the depths of of on-stage dark ironmongery was an exciting bravura performance.
We have the story of nine assassins who briefly, and in song, justify their killing of famous people, mainly American presidents, leading up to the persuasion they exert on Lee Harvey Oswald intent on killing himself, to turn his rifle on JFK as he drives past in Dallas, Texas. This was the occasion where everyone knows where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news - well, nearly everyone. We are reminded that one of the assassins was the man who attempted to hijack an airliner and fly it into the White House to kill President Richard Nixon. He did not succeed, but at a future date, it was seen to be a good idea.
Perhaps this was the point of Sondheim's musical. It is all very well looking at these crazy figures from the past, but who cares about them. We have the World Trade Center, (or Centre) with more than 3,000 deaths to sing about. Musicals have changed, they are no longer just song and dance shows - they have a message.
Remember Sam Goldwyn - 'If you want to send a message, use Western Union.'
So I suppose my message is: This was a show to make you think, but the message got a bit lost in the music and the dance - not Sondheim at his best, but a worthwhile evening. The best throwaway line in the show? 'It's a free country---That's a joke.'
Running until 1st April
Reviewer: Philip Seager