Voices

U-Hi drama department stages Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Assassins’

Ross Mumford, left, plays the Balladeer and Alexander Eddy plays John Wilkes Booth in the University High School production of
Ross Mumford, left, plays the Balladeer and Alexander Eddy plays John Wilkes Booth in the University High School production of "Assassins." (J. Bart Rayniak)

The University High School drama department is on a roll with its production of musicals. Last year, the group performed “Sweeney Todd” and won three Seattle 5th Avenue Theatre Awards. Just last fall, they produced “Oklahoma,” the school’s biggest-grossing production to date.

This month, the school will perform its second musical of the year.

“I have a lot of really talented singers,” said drama teacher Briane Green.

The material this time around is much darker than “Oklahoma.”

“We actually hang somebody with a noose,” she said.

“Assassins” is a Stephen Sondheim musical which takes place in Limbo and revolves around the men and women who either attempted to or successfully assassinated a United States president.

In the play, John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr., Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and others all ponder whether to kill a president.

Green said each of the characters wanted to be famous for what they did.

“All they are is another page in a history book,” Green said.

There is a lot of history in the play. Many folks today may not know who Charles Guiteau was (he assassinated President James Garfield), but they certainly know who Oswald was.

To talk about these villains and what they did, the U.S. history classes teamed with the drama department to explain the history. The play is going to be entered for a 5th Avenue Educational Impact Award, which is given to drama departments that use musical theater to enhance education.

Green said getting the students to understand what it feels like to live through a national tragedy was challenging. When something like that happens, the world seems to stop.

One of the songs in the play, “Something Just Broke,” deals with the death of John F. Kennedy. Green said that when her own father talks about where he was and what he felt on that day, he still gets very emotional.

The characters in “Assassins” sing about where they were and how they felt when they heard the news.

Green said the students really don’t know what it is like – most of them are even too young to remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Green assigned her students the task of writing themselves a letter about their most painful memory. When they are singing the song about Kennedy, Green wants them to think about that letter.

She said she appreciates this play since it is an ensemble piece.

“They all have their moment,” she said about the actors.

The actors use starter pistols on the stage, and Green said they are locked up each night after rehearsals.

The cast includes Alex Winter as Booth, Ben Bartles as Leon Czolgosz, Mitch Prothero as Guiteau, Darion Marlin as Giuseppe Zangara, Jacob Westfall as Hinckley, Loren Mellik as Samuel Byck, Madisen Riggen as Fromme, Brittany Holden as Sara Jane Moore, Josh Nelson as Oswald, Ross Mumford as the Balladeer and Quinn Johnson as the Proprietor. The supporting cast includes 13 more students and Green’s 6-year-old daughter, Lola.



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