Opening this week, Assassins is to die for

Watch This’ brand new production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins commences at fortyfivedownstairs this Wednesday night starring Nadine Garner and Nick Simpson-Deeks. Erin James spoke with Director Tyran Parke about this exciting new company and their wonderful new production. 

Assassins Cast 2013
Assassins Cast 2013

Method for a successful musical:

1. Choose your actor driven, well crafted show

2. Enlist a passionate director with a strong vision

3. Cast a group of dedicated and spirited actors to bring the piece to life

4. Combine all ingredients in a rehearsal room for four weeks (10am – 6pm), support them with a venue and promotion, and watch your masterpiece unfold.

Seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? But after speaking with Tyran Parke last week about his upcoming production of Assassins, it seems the producers (startup company Watch This, with Sonya Suares at the helm) might have followed this method to a tee. And the product is set to be sensational.

“It’s a great cast – a great cast, Erin, I love them” Parke told me one morning before rehearsals commenced last week. “They bring a huge wealth of preparation and experience I kind of have a show crush on all of them!”

Starring Nadine Garner (most recently seen as Jean in Dr Blake’s Mysteries on ABC), Nick Simpson-Deeks, Matt Holly, Tod Strike, Sonya Suares, Luigi Lucente, Mark Dickinson and more, the company of actors Parke has assembled for this musical are top notch. Parke explains that the month long rehearsal period has been an incredible journey, and every member of the company has put it an enormous amount of effort to bring the show to life.

“I think when you are working on a Sondheim piece everyone is so engaged because they HAVE to be – with every day you dig deeper and find more” he said.

“You know, sometimes you do a show and you kind of just have to avoid certain corners because the material doesn’t always stand up, but this just has more and more stuff. The research that everyone has done – because obviously all these people existed – means that there is more richness, so every day you walk away kind of having learnt more as well, so I think that makes everybody really enjoy the process as well.”

Unlike many musicals where glitz, glamour and elaborate sets are an enormous feature of the production, Assassins is more like a ‘revue’ which features “a bunch of songs and short scenes” in one act.

Parke has set the entire show in a kind of eerie dream-like carnival world, where the popular shooting gallery game has presidents as targets. The events of the show span over 200 years – from John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Abraham Lincoln to John Hinkley’s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.  

[pull_left]If this production is well supported, hopefully it will be something that will continue on and fill the little gaps in the music theatre world[/pull_left]

“The show borrows music from all over – Sondheim pastiches so many musical styles. ‘Unworthy of Your Love’ is practically a Carpenter’s song. There is Dixieland, a Cakewalk, a Barbershop Quartet and all music that we know from history – but with a Sondheim intelligence thrown onto it. It’s really a very strange world, and I think setting it in a carnival helps make sense of all of that”, said Parke.

Producing Assassins at fortyfivedownstairs on Flinders Lane is largely attributed to Parke’s initial excitement and enthusiasm upon seeing the venue.

“At one point, when they [Watch This] were deciding what Sondheim show to do, we looked at the space and I said “you have to do Assassins down here”. It’s like a warehouse where you can actually use the architecture of the space as the set.”

Happily – or scarily – Parke explains, fortyfivedownstairs bears “a very striking resemblance to the Texas Book Repository (the famous building from which Lee Harvey Oswald is said to have fired the fatal shots at JFK) and there is a moment where the actual space becomes our set for a while. It’s pretty amazing.”

Assassins has only been performed professionally in Australia once before – at the Melbourne Theatre Company in the 90s – Parke tells me. This revival production, if it fares well for Watch This will be the first in a line of actor-driven musicals rarely seen on the Australian professional stage to be produced by the company.

“If this production is well supported, hopefully it will be something that will continue on and fill the little gaps in the music theatre world. Shows that aren’t on anyone’s to do list, that we won’t see a top quality production of unless someone like Watch This step up and put it on.”

Matt Holly, Nadine Garner, Sonya Suares and Mark Dickinson in Assassins
Matt Holly, Nadine Garner, Sonya Suares and Mark Dickinson in Assassins

Being a show that is set in America, portraying Americans and their connections (for want of a better word) with American Presidents, I was curious as to how Parke saw this production relating to Australian audiences who don’t have that history. His answer was concise and completely understandable, and in retrospect, I wonder why this show hasn’t been performed more for this reason alone.

“The more you look at the play it’s actually, on a human level, just about what happens when people are promised something that doesn’t come true,” Parke explains.

“We are all promised these days that we have the right to be happy – which is the message of the opening song ‘Everybody’s got the right to some sunshine’. What happens, though, when people misconstrue that? Because really, we have the right to pursue happiness.”

Assassins is about people who do misconstrue that meaning, who become disenfranchised and what they do with their anger and frustration or their disappointment.

“That human side of it, even though we don’t go to the extreme of killing presidents, that’s the part that we all understand. Clearly we don’t agree with what they did, because it’s horrific, but we do realise that some people thought they were being very honourable by doing this. They all had some calling.”

Assassins commences previews this Wednesday 10th April – but that performance is completely SOLD OUT already. Opening night is set for 11 April and the season runs until April 21. 

Book your tickets now to avoid disappointment (well all know what happens when disappointment sets in) because this show is to die for. And we wouldn’t want that. 

Buy Tickets HERE

Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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