Assassins Shooting Gallery: Meet the Players and the Plotters

By Ernio Hernandez
and Kenneth Jones
November 23, 2012

In anticipation of Roundabout Theatre Company's Dec. 3 Broadway reunion concert of the Tony Award-winning production of Assassins, Playbill revisits our exclusive look at the nine title characters — plus the fictional master of ceremonies — and the actors who portray them.



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Learn more about the benefit reunion concert of the Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical, which tells the stories of the men and women who killed (or tried to kill) presidents of the United States. The Roundabout revival played Studio 54 in 2004, and returns there for one night only.

 The staging is again directed by Joe Mantello, who won a Tony for his work. In addition to winning Tonys for Michael Cerveris (Best Actor in a Musical, for playing John Wilkes Booth), Best Musical Revival, Best Orchestrations (Michael Starobin) and Lighting Design (Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer), Denis O'Hare was nominated as Featured Actor in a Musical for playing Charles Guiteau, killer of President Garfield.

A version of this piece appeared in 2004, during the Broadway run of Assassins. We thought it deserved a second look.

Jeffrey Kuhn (inset Zangara) and Michael Cerveris (Booth)

 

Character:

Assassin: Giuseppe Zangara
(aka Joseph Zangara)
Born: September 7, 1900, in Ferruzzano, Italy
Before he was an assassin: Bricklayer
Other jobs: Menial laborer
Assassination Attempt: President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 15, 1933, at Bayfront Park in Miami, Florida

Why he became an assassin: Riddled with stomach pains he blamed on his father, Zangara previously plotted to kill King Victor Emmanuel III because the Italian government would not help him punish his father. After emigrating to the United States, he underwent an appendectomy (which did not alleviate his suffering). The onset of The Great Depression worsened his condition. Zangara decided to kill President Herbert Hoover, but changed targets after Roosevelt won the election.

Died: March 20, 1933, in the electric chair at the Florida State Penitentiary. He was sentenced to death in the electric chair after the death of Mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak — who was hit by one of the five bullets Zangara fired in his failed attempt on FDR. At sentencing, he yelled to the judge, "You give me electric chair. I no afraid of that chair! You one of capitalists. You is crook man too. Put me in electric chair. I no care!"

Last Words: "Lousy capitalists! No picture! Capitalists! No one here to take my picture. All capitalists lousy bunch of crooks. Go ahead. Push the button!"

 

Played by:

Actor: Jeffrey Kuhn
Born: October 10, 1969, in St. Clements, Ontario
Before he was in Assassins: Broadway: Ragtime; Other: Off-Broadway in Floyd Collins, original Canadian company of The Lion King
Other jobs: None, left drama school to join Stratford Festival company

Why he became an actor: "I think of myself as being, in many ways, a shy person. A lot of people would find that difficult to believe, but I always felt like a very shy kid and I always felt timid about expressing who I was and what I had to say. So, I think it was intoxicating and powerful to assume the mantle of somebody else and feel like I was given license to become something else.

On research for playing Zangara:
"I've had the good fortune that there's been a book published relatively recently about him, which gives a lot of information that previously would have been difficult to look up. So, that's been immensely helpful so far. And actually, in the process of writing his book, they discovered some of his diaries that he kept in prison. So that's interesting and gives me a little bit of insight to how he thought and how he expressed himself.
Probably the most surprising thing to me is that so many people said he was kind-hearted and sort of jovial and almost light-hearted. Which, of course, is juxtaposed with these moments of extreme rage and anger. I didn't expect that. I expected that he was probably a darker, moodier soul all around. But many people said that he was very articulate and calm and verbose and genial. And then he could turn if the topic turned to something political."

On being a political person:
"I think one of the things that attracts me to [Zangara's] story and attracts me to Assassins, in particular, is that, although [I had] a completely different experience, I'm an immigrant to the United States myself. So, I feel that my views as an person observing a political system of which I can't be an active participant gives me an individual, outsider viewpoint. That resonates with me very much when I think of him feeling very much on the outside, choosing to live within a structure that he felt really didn't embrace him, or that he had no place in. Of course, I don't feel the same way he did. And I couldn't be more anti-death penalty."

 

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Character:

Assassin: John Wilkes Booth
Born: May 10, 1838, near Bel Air, Maryland
Brother: Actor Edwin Booth (for whom Broadway's Booth Theatre is named)
Before he was an assassin: Actor
Other jobs: Farm hand, Oil investor
Assassinated: President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Why he became an assassin: A diehard advocate of the South's cause, Booth previously plotted a failed attempt to kidnap Lincoln in exchange for the release of Confederate prisoners. Weeks later, General Robert E. Lee's surrender to the Union coupled with Lincoln's granting voting rights to blacks drove Booth to formulate another plan with conspirators, this time to kill Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward. Only Booth's part of the mission was completed, with the actor screaming "Sic Semper Tyrannis" ("Thus Always to Tyrants" - Virginia's state motto).

Died: April 26, 1865, on the porch of Richard Garrett's house near Port Royal, Virginia, after being discovered at his hideout. After several hours of trying to draw him out alive, soldiers set fire to the barn where he was. But a sergeant, seeing him through a crack, took aim and shot him in the neck. He died hours later after claiming he did it "for his country."

Last Words: [Looking at his hands] "Useless, useless."

 

Played by:

Actor: Michael Cerveris
Born: November 6, 1960, in Bethesda, Maryland (grew up in Huntington, West Virginia)
Brother: Actor Todd Cerveris (Broadway's Twentieth Century)
Before he was in Assassins: Broadway: The Who's Tommy, Titanic; Off-Broadway: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Fifth of July, Wintertime
Other jobs: Waiter, FAO Schwarz Window Display, Collator.
"I waited tables in any number of New York restaurants and I did window display at Christmas time at FAO Schwarz once. And the most bizarre job I had was — I guess this was before collating Xerox machines were every place — I worked for a week with eight other people walking around a table stacked with piles, each pile was a different page of this document. We just walked around in circles for eight hours a day... after a while you start to get dizzy and disoriented. But it paid well and, of course, everybody else were actors, too."

Why he became an actor: "There are a lot of good comic answers, you know: lack of any real ability to do anything; seemed more appealing than getting a real job. But, I think the truth of it is as I was growing up — all through school, through high school, through college — I explored everything else. I kind of resisted the idea that I would be an actor even though I had started doing things at a young age at Webster Groves College in St. Louis, just as the kid in the university productions of you know Caucasian Chalk Circle or whatever. When you start out with Brecht, what hope do you have?
It just became clear over time as much as I was fascinated by and interested in other things, and I think quite possibly could have been happy doing any one of them, when I walked into a theatre and when I went on stage, I really felt a sense of place and sense of home there. And that seemed to be a place that I belong.The nice thing now is that I have my music stuff to do in between times, so I have something that I'm really excited by and creatively satisfied by when I'm not actually working."

On research for playing Booth:
"My brother, a friend and my girlfriend gave me copies of Booth's book of letters called 'Right or Wrong, God Judge Me' and several other people have given me other books and research materials. My brother actually has written a one-person show that he's been developing for a few years about John Wilkes and [his brother] Edwin Booth, so he has a great deal of material amassed for that.
I think the most interesting thing I've discovered so far was that Lincoln was an extremely controversial and largely unpopular president at that particular moment in history. I just sort of assumed he always kind of had the reputation and the position that he has now, but I've learned that that wasn't at all true. It makes it much easier to believe that as distorted as his reasons were, [Booth] wasn't crazy. He wasn't insane. He saw himself as a patriot. And as we see these days, a lot of violent and questionable things are done in the name of patriotism. It makes him much more of a complex person than just an evil lunatic.

On being a political person:
"I would say that I am. I think I'm not as educated as I feel I ought to be and would like to be, but I think I've grown increasingly political over the last five years or so. I'm constantly battling with feeling apathetic in the face of disillusionment with the political system and the way things seem to be going lately. At times, you just want to turn off the TV completely and just ignore it all which, of course, is not the best response. I found myself getting very involved in the peace marches and things last February and took a lot of hope and heart from those events.

On the parallels between the Booth and Cerveris acting brothers:
"Hopefully it won't end as badly as it did for those two."

Alexander Gemignani (inset Hinckley) and Mario Cantone (Byck)


 

 

Character:

Assassin: John Hinckley
(aka John Warnock Hinckley, Jr.)
Born: May 29, 1955, in Ardmore, Oklahoma
Father: John W. Hinckley, Sr., Vanderbilt Energy Corporation Chairman and President
Before he was an assassin: Songwriter
Other jobs: Busboy, College Student
Assassination Attempt: President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981, outside the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C.

Why he became an assassin: An increasingly reclusive college dropout, Hinckley moved to Hollywood to pursue a career as a songwriter. He became obsessed with Martin Scorcese's film "Taxi Driver," identifying with the protagonist's attempts to save a young prostitute played by Jodie Foster. After failed attempts at courting the actress, he decided an assassination would impress her. After stalking Jimmy Carter, the attempt was made on his successor Reagan.

Found: Not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21, 1982, and sent to live in St. Elizabeth's Mental Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Famous Words: [Throwing a pen, during his trial, at a videotaped testimony in which Jodie Foster denied any relationship with him] "I'll get you, Foster!"

 

Played by:

Actor: Alexander Gemignani
Born: July 3, 1979, in Manhattan, New York (grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey)
Father: Paul Gemignani, Musical Director of Assassins
Before he was in Assassins: Off-Broadway: Avenue Q; Other: The Trapped Family Singers (FringeNYC), world premiere of Marty
Other jobs: UPS Store, TCBY, Waiter at TGI Friday's

Why he became an actor: "I went to college to be a trumpet major and it was great. I had a fantastic trumpet teacher and I did very well. Then after the first semester, I [began] losing my love for playing my horn and I didn't want to do that. It was more about [how] I couldn't see myself in a pit, I couldn't see myself doing that. I always loved to do theatre and I did it in high school and I guess I can kinda sing, so I thought 'I'll audition for the department.' Well, it turns out I was at a great department and didn't know it. I loved the school so much and had such a great freshman year that I didn't want to leave."

On his casting for Assassins:
"[My school] had just done the show my senior year and I was called back for Byck. The teacher and I have a running gag about it, 'I'm going to go down in history as the guy who didn't cast you in Assassins.' I did my senior showcase after graduating. A guy who worked for [casting agent] Jim Carnahan came up to me after and said 'Hey, I'd love for you to come in for John Hinckley on Monday.' I said 'Okay' and went in. My dad was in the room. He actually was a little too nervous to handle it, so he got up and left the room for my first audition. I thought, 'That was fun, I got to audition for a Broadway show right out of college.' Then, the next day I got a call that said 'Come back tomorrow.' And it was very surprising, but great."

On being a political person:
"I have nothing but the utmost respect for people who follow politics and make a stand on an issue. If there's something I feel very strongly about, sure, but I've never been a very political person."

 

***

 

Character:

Assassin: Samuel Byck
(aka Samuel Joseph Byck)
Born: 1930
Before he was an assassin: Salesman
Other jobs: Army Soldier
Next featured as a character in: "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" film starring Sean Penn
Assassination attempt: President Richard M. Nixon on February 22, 1974, at Baltimore-Washington International Airport

Why he became an assassin: In recorded tapes he sent to celebrities, including West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein, Byck blamed the government for his woes and revealed his plan to hijack a commercial plane and crash it into the White House. Recently divorced, unemployed and turning 44, his plan "Pandora's Box" went into effect as he entered the airport with a gun and gasoline bomb, forced his way through a security checkpoint by killing a guard and made it onto an airplane headed to Atlanta.

Died: February 22, 1974, onboard Delta Flight 523. After being shot twice by police outside the still-parked plane, Byck turned his gun on himself.

Famous Words: [Protesting in a Santa Claus suit after a previous failed attempt to picket without a permit] "I want to see if they have the guts to arrest Santa Claus."

 

Played by:

Actor: Mario Cantone
Born: December 9, 1959, in Boston, Massachusetts (grew up in Stoneham, MA)
Before he was in Assassins: Broadway: The Violet Hour, Love! Valour! Compassion!; Other: The Crumple Zone, "Sex and the City"
Other jobs: Jewelry Salesman, Stand-up Comedian
Next featured in: Laugh Whore, slated for Broadway this fall
Why he became an actor: "It was the only thing I knew how to do. I was short and Italian and odd. That's why I got into stand-up [comedy] cause I thought if I'm just an actor, I'm screwed. And it only took me 90 years to get anyplace and I'm still only semi-famous."

On his casting for Assassins:
"I called Joe [Mantello, his director for Assassins and Love! Valour! Compassion!] and said 'I never say to you: "You're doing this play, I wanna do it."' He goes 'What? You want to be in Assassins? I already cast you.' I'm like 'Wha...? What [role] is it?' And I'm thinking Guiteau because it's the flamboyant role and everybody thought that. And he said 'No, Sam Byck.' And it was a stroke because when I did it at the workshop, [original Assassins cast member] Victor Garber came up to me and said 'You're the only person who could stop a Sondheim show with a monologue and not a song.' I saw it three times Off-Broadway and I liked the part. I just didn't see myself in it."

On most interesting discovery in research for playing Byck:
"He hugged this girl before he went off to the airport. It seemed like it was just a very saddened moment for him; an innocent, sad moment that was pure for him."

On being a political person:
"No, I'm really not. I think the older I get, the more I'm aware of it and the more I pay attention to it. I don't talk about politics too much in my act [either], I have a little bit in my standup, but I'd rather rip apart Nicole Kidman or the Hilton sisters."

On whether he'll be putting on weight for the role:
"No. There will be no weight put on, I am not Marlon Brando or Robert De Niro. I'm in a schlumpy Santa Claus outfit, so I'll look slobby but underneath there will be a fine-ass body with six-pack abs." [Laughs.]

Mary Catherine Garrison (inset Fromme) and Becky Ann Baker (Moore)


 

 

Character:

Assassin: Lynette Fromme
(aka Squeaky, Red, Lynette Alice Fromme)
Born: Oct. 22, 1949 in Santa Monica, California
Before she was an assassin: Unofficial Manson "Family" Leader (after his arrest)
Other jobs: Westchester Lariats performer
Assassination Attempt: President Gerald Ford on September 5, 1975, outside the Senator Hotel in Sacramento, California

Why she became an assassin: Kicked out by her father, Fromme met Charles Manson at Venice Beach and became one of his followers. Still in contact with Manson after his conviction and. trying to gain attention for their environmental concerns, Fromme pointed a gun — loaded but with no bullet in the firing chamber — at Ford from two feet away.

Found: Guilty of attempted assassination and sentenced to life in prison.

Famous Words: [As she pointed the gun on Ford] "The country is in a mess. This man is not your president!"

 

Played by:

Actor: Mary Catherine Garrison
Born: December 19, 1973 in Clarksdale, Mississippi (grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana)
Before she was in Assassins: Broadway: The Man Who Came to Dinner; Off-Broadway: Debbie Does Dallas, Crimes of the Heart
Other jobs: Waitress, Mental Hospital File Clerk
"I was a waitress at a Chinese restaurant which I think was owned by gangsters. I was the only waitress."

Why she became an actor: "I was living in New Orleans and there was a creative arts high school called NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) and I thought it was going to be like Fame where people are just dancing. I had to go there. I actually got my minor in art. I assumed I would go into art. I wrote but I didn't really enjoy writing that much. I didn't enjoy dancing that much, I didn't sing or play an instrument, so that left acting. So I just thought 'Okay, yeah, I'll just try that.' And I never looked back, never did anything else."

On her casting for Assassins:
"Honestly, I have what I can only describe as a phobia, I'm so deeply afraid of singing in front of people. Actually, what happened was they hired Jennifer Laura Thompson; it was between the two of us and we had like this audition showdown. It was like two guys and two girls and Alex [Gemignani] and Jennifer got it. Then Urinetown went to Broadway and she stayed with that show. The experience was so daunting because everybody was such a great singer."

On research for playing Fromme:
"She's just so passionate about her beliefs and why she wants to do what she wants to do. It's interesting to play someone whose that passionate about something that's so off-center. I've been reading up a lot on her life, trying to get both sides of the story."

On being a political person:
"No, [I'm] not at all. I hate to admit it, but it just doesn't register with me. I can't dissect the language. I just tend to get a feeling for someone. I know that feeling is probably wrong because politicians are actors. What do they say? 'D.C. is Hollywood for ugly people' They're still performers."

 

***

 

Character:

Assassin: Sara Jane Moore
(aka Sara Jane Kahn, Sally)
Born: 1930 in Charleston, West Virginia
Married: Five times
Before she was an assassin: Accountant
Other jobs: FBI Informant, Women's Army Corp, Nursing School Student
Assassination Attempt: President Gerald Ford on September 22, 1975, outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, California

Why she became an assassin: Leaving her job in her forties, Moore turned to revolutionary political groups. She was then hired as an informer by the FBI to gather information on the Patty Hearst kidnappers. When her FBI ties became known, Moore took action to split herself from the organization and to shake up the political system.

Found: Guilty of attempted assassination and sentenced to life in prison.

Famous Words: "I didn’t want to kill anybody, but there comes a point when the only way you can make a statement is to pick up a gun."

 

Played by:

Actor: Becky Ann Baker
Born: February 17 in Fort Knox, Kentucky (grew up in various cities)
Married: To actor Dylan Baker
Before she was in Assassins: Broadway: Titanic, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; Off-Broadway: June Moon, Shanghai Moon.
Other jobs: Bartender
"In summer stock, I learned how to bartend because we all had to have these little jobs at the theatre. And so when I got here, I had a couple of very short-lived bartending jobs."

Why she became an actor: "I was one of those kids. I grew up in army bases, my father was a military man, and we moved around so much and were so rootless. You find in this business that there are a lot of people who had these roaming nomad backgrounds that go into the arts because you don't really have one job. It's suited in that you're constantly changing jobs and you don't necessarily know the next destination or what it holds for you. I got to watch a lot of smalltown community theatre and it was always a very romantic idea to me. I always thought I was going to be either an astronaut, an archaeologist or an actor. They all started with A's."

On her casting for Assassins:
"Joe [Mantello] asked me to do the workshop of it for Roundabout and I had just come off a season of a television show called 'Freaks and Geeks.' And I think that's how he thought of it, you know that kind of typical mid-Western mom that no one expects to do anything unusual."

On research for playing Moore:
"It's not as easy to find stuff on Sara Jane Moore as it is on, say, "Squeaky" Fromme. It think [Fromme] captured the imagination of people who like to write a little bit more. This is a woman who had five husbands, and four different children by different husbands and had about as many different careers as well. One of the most interesting things about her is her inability to commit to one thing. I started getting this idea that it's a woman who likes to reinvent herself a lot. I won't equate her to Madonna [laughs], but it's this woman who really likes to project herself onto different scenes."

On being a political person:
"I am. Yes, my husband and I both are watching all the [election coverage] pretty closely. And yes, I find seeing American history through the eyes of a villain is really fascinating to me."

James Barbour (inset Czolgosz) and Denis O'Hare (Guiteau)

 

Character:

Assassin: Leon Czolgosz
(aka Leon Franz Czolgosz, Fred C. Nieman)
Born: 1873 in Detroit, Michigan
Before he was an assassin: Wire Mill Worker
Other jobs: Menial laborer
Assassinated: President William McKinley on Sept. 6, 1901, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York

Why he became an assassin: Born and raised in impoverished conditions, Czolgosz became a factory worker at age ten. Increasingly exacerbated by the mistreatment of workers, he began to read socialist newspapers and attended speeches by anarchist Emma Goldman. Incited by the assassination of King Humbert I of Italy, Czolgosz traveled to Buffalo, rented a room, bought a gun and days later shot McKinley in a receiving line at the Exposition.

Died: Oct. 29, 1901, in the electric chair at Auburn State Prison after a speedy trial aided by his willing confession: "I killed President McKinley because I done my duty. I didn't believe one man should have so much service and another man should have none."

Last Words: “I killed the President because he was an enemy of the good people — of the working people. I am not sorry for my crime!"

 

Played by:

Actor: James Barbour
Born: April 25 in Mount Holly, New Jersey (grew in up Cherry Hill, NJ)
Before he was in Assassins: Broadway: Jane Eyre, Urinetown, Beauty and the Beast, Carousel
Other jobs: Carnival Worker, Old Time Photographer, Indoor Batting Cages
"We spent our summers in Ocean City, New Jersey, and there was a boardwalk down there called the Wonderland Pier. I worked the carousel (which was a wonderful thing when I did Carousel) and the bumper cars and the Tilt-A-Whirl. The object of the Tilt-A-Whirl was when anybody complained about the ride, you sped it up so you would make them vomit. The other jobs were Old Time Photos — where you dress people up — and at 'Hackers, Hitters and Hoops' — the only indoor batting cages in Manhattan."

Why he became an actor: "At first I didn't know. All I knew was that I wanted to be everything and my family was very supportive of my choices. We were always very creative. As an actor, it's the only thing that I just did instantly, I could just do it and I could become anything I wanted to become. That to me was exciting."

On research for playing Czolgosz:
"The trial of Czolgosz was instantaneous. There's this great photograph of him in jail. [He looks] just destroyed. I'm looking at all these images and lines [of text] and he is just — and I mean it's a weird thing, but he is fascinating to me beacuse he was so committed to what he did. He was just so passionate about his belief."

On being a political person:
"I know that when [Michael] Dukakis was running [for president], which was when I was in college, that's when I really became aware of participating in politics. Since then, I've joined a group called The Creative Coalition — a bi-partisan political homeroom for people in the entertainment industry and their mainstays are arts funding and freedom of speech. This is the world we live in and we're all part of that. If we're active in our own lives to live morally and like good human beings, so I think we should for our country. We should try to represent ourselves whatever your viewpoints. I think it's important."

 

***

 

Character:

Assassin: Charles J. Guiteau
Born: September 8, 1841, in Freeport, Illinois
Before he was an assassin: Lawyer
Other jobs: Preacher, Author
Assassinated: President James Garfield on July 2, 1881, at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C.

Why he became an assassin: After the death of his father (a former county clerk), the divorced lawyer-preacher Guiteau sought to get into politics and penned a speech which he believed won Garfield the election. Moving to Washington, he adamantly contacted The White House expecting the reward of being named Consul-General to Paris.

Died: June 30, 1882, hanged at the Washington, D.C. jail.

Last Words: [Reciting a poem which began] "I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad."

 

Played by:

Actor: Denis O'Hare
Born: January 17 in Kansas City, Missouri (grew up in Southfield, Michigan)
Before he was in Assassins: Broadway: Take Me Out, Major Barbara, Cabaret; Off-Broadway: Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited), Helen
Other jobs: Maintenance Man, Dishwasher, Waiter, Bartender, Temp
"I was the maintenance man at McDonald's in high school. I also pulled weeds for a living for a while at an apartment complex where I had to start at one end of the complex. By the time I got to the end, all the weeds I had pulled were already back. So it was an existential trap. And my father got me a job as a dishwasher and they pulled me off the line because I turned so red, they thought I was going to die. And I did the waiter-bartender thing until I got fired and I became a temp.

Why he became an actor: "I don't have a rational, logical reason. I was a poetry major for two years in college and woke up at 20 in my junior year and realized that I didn't have any theatre credits and I had to make a decision to be either an actor or a writing major. Even before college, I was an opera student and I auditioned for the University of Michigan opera school. I didn't care where I went, it was like 'If they accept me, I'll go there, if they accept me at Northwestern, I'll go there and become an actor.' Ultimately, I got accepted at both and I chose to go to Northwestern because it was six hours away from my parents as opposed to a half-hour away from my parents."

On research for playing Guiteau:
"Guiteau is kind of a transcendent figure in a lot of ways. He's out of his mind, but he's latched onto something. Guiteau, in his madness, is glimpsing some sort of wonderful redemption. He's leaving behind the life of pain and torture and going on to bliss."

On being a political person:
"I'm a very political person. I spend a lot of time on the web, reading newspapers from around the world on a daily basis. I spend much too much time being angry about the state of the world, especially about the state of American politics right now. I have a little email group I sent out my rants to. I wear a "Stop Bush" button everywhere I go. I used to xerox my own stickers, put them all over Times Square before the war in Iraq. I feel like if you don't try to influence the course of events, then you have no right to complain about them. I do what I can. I do feel like I'm kind of ineffectual. But, I called The White House for a while, about twice a week for eight months. And I call Senator [Charles] Schumer and I call Senator [Hilary] Clinton and I call my representative all the time. I call TV stations, I call CNN, I write letters to The [New York] Times. Someone's got to. If you leave it to somebody else, everyone will assume that someone else is taking care of it, keeping an eye on things, presidents would lie."

Neil Patrick Harris (Inset: Lee Harvey Oswald), Bottom: Marc Kudisch

 

 

Character:

Proprietor
Other jobs: Hangman, Announcer
Famous Words: "Hey, pal — feeling blue?/ Don't know what to do?/ Hey, pal — I mean you — Yeah/ C'mere and kill a President." [The show's opening lyric.]

 

Played by:

Actor: Marc Kudisch
Born: September 22, 1966, in Hackensack, New Jersey
Before he was in Assassins: Broadway: Thoroughly Modern Millie, Bells Are Ringing; Other: The Thing About Men, A Little Night Music, "Bye Bye Birdie"
Other jobs: Waiter, Movie Theatre Usher, GAP
"I waited tables. I loved waiting tables. I put myself through college waiting tables. After my first semester, I had a terrible GPA. My father said to me, you're on your own. He said 'I'll pay for the second semester on a loan, you're going to pay that back and after that you're truly on your own.' So I had to go get a job. Ultimately, I probably would have never even gotten into theatre if it wasn't for that because I made the choice when I was in college to switch majors. It was my choice, so I felt very strong about it. The best thing my folks ever did for me was make me pay for college."

Why he became an actor:"I did my first play when I was in high school because I wanted to say that I did something like that in high school. I was a geek, I was like president of the Spanish Club for two years. When I got into college, I was a political science major and I took some theatre courses to lighten that load, as something to enjoy. And, I found myself at three in the morning building sets when I should have been studying for an exam and I just decided I was going to do it. And really, what's the difference between being a politician and an actor."

On his casting in Assassins:
"I went in to audition [for Booth]. I kinda knew his music and so I went in to audition with it and immediately following, we got a call going 'So, they want you to do Assassins. They want you to play the Proprietor.' And I was like 'What?' And of course, who wasn't excited? I was excited. Who doesn't want to do this show? Right? There's not a guy who wouldn't want to do this. But, I was just like 'The Proprietor?' They said they want to explore the possibility of the role. I was like 'Okay!' Basically, you're asked to go in there and take a risk. A large part of the agreement going in was 'We're going to explore and see what's possible and are you willing to take that trip with us?' To which, I was like 'Woo-hoo.'"

On being a political person:
"I consider myself to be political in that I have very strong opinions and very strong stands on my particular beliefs. I am a registered independent because I feel, at least for me, I don't like it to be about party politics, I like it to be about a platform, about programs."

 

***

 

Character:

Assassin: Lee Harvey Oswald
(aka Alek James Hidell, O.H. Lee)
Born: October 18, 1939, in New Orleans, Louisiana
Before he was an assassin: Stock Worker in Book Depository
Other jobs: U.S. Marine, Factory Worker, Various Jobs
Assassinated: President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas

Why he became an assassin: Shot by Jacob "Jack Ruby" Rubenstein before a motive could be determined (after two days of questioning, Oswald never confessed). Oswald's Marxist beliefs, his ties to Russia and Cuba as well as an alleged attempt on anti-communist General Edwin Walker suggest the assassination was a political action.

Died: November 24, 1963, shot during his transfer to county jail.

Famous Words: [When asked "Did you kill the President?" at a press conference] "No. I have not been charged with that. In fact, nobody has said that to me yet. The first thing I heard about it was when the newspaper reporters in the hall asked me that question."

 

Played by:

Actor: Neil Patrick Harris
Born: June 15, 1973, in Albuquerque, New Mexico (grew up in Ruidoso, NM)
Before he was in Assassins: Broadway: Proof, Cabaret; Other: Sweeney Todd, Rent; TV: "Stark Raving Mad," "Doogie Howser, M.D."
Other jobs: Waiter, Bookstore Clerk

Why he became an actor: "I was always an extrovert when I was a kid. I always dealt with adults really well, adults didn't intimidate me, so I didn't have any problem singing in front of people or being in the church choir or do plays or things like that. And then, all of a sudden, acting in a motion picture with Whoopi Goldberg when I was 12."

On his casting in Assassins:
"I had worked with Stephen Sondheim before for the Sweeney Todd concerts and he asked me to record that Evening Primrose album. And that was right around when they were casting the first workshop [of Assassins] back in 2000, so they asked me to be the Balladeer/ Oswald and I sort of made my mark and stayed with the show."

On the duality of his roles as The Balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald:
"They ying and yang each other very well. The Balladeer has no real acting to do, he doesn't interact with any character, he just sort of narrates to the audience. So it's all one color for a long time and a very happy color at that. And when I play Oswald, it's the absolute antithesis: It's someone who's not very comfortable of confident in himself physically, emotionally."

On research for playing Oswald:
"I didn't realize what a bad egg he was so early. His father died before he was born and his mother really wanted to keep him close to her, so they ended up moving from town to town countless times before was out of elementary school and he was held back a few years, so he was always kind of the bully, getting in fights, the loner, the outcast that no one really knew. He became interested in the military, Marxism and Communism at a very early age because his older brother went into the military. Then as soon as he could, he joined himself and wasn't the oldest kid in his class, but was sort of the younger runt of the litter. So he went from idolizing this military ideal to suddenly being treated poorly in his mind by his peers and his superiors."

On being a political person:
"I'm not particularly political. I like to sit on the sidelines and observe. I'm certainly pro-active in voting and encouraging people to vote. But, I feel like there's a lot of grandstanding on both sides of the political coin. It's tricky to step in to politics and give your opinion because we're rarely given all the facts necessary to make an informed decision."

(Ernio Hernandez is a former writer and photo editor for Playbill.com.)