Review: JOHN AND JEN at the Eagle Theatre

The truth and conviction of the human spirit makes this John & Jen a gorgeous triumph.

John & Jen, a story that spans over 50 years, is an intimate tale about connections, commitments and the healing of the human heart.

We meet Jen as a 6 year old singing “Welcome to the World” to her baby brother John promising to make sure he’s happy and as safe as he can be; promises that are easily made yet in time take on a darker new meaning. Every family has its unique problems and situations. Turns out father has a temper that occasionally turns violent and Jen soon sees that John in sometimes the target of his rage. The two vow to work it out together in a cozy attic which becomes their safe place and later becomes a testing ground for the growing siblings over the years.

There is much to get involved with about this story; an emotional score by Broadway’s Andrew Lippa featuring some of his finest work paired with lyrics by Tom Greenwald and a book by both. Then there’s the incredible acting and vocals by Adam Hoyak (John) and Kimberly Suskind (Jen) and the effective direction of Ted Wioncek III. Wioncek takes a piece that was basically staged in a ‘black box’ setting and enhances the production by inviting the audience into the cozy attic filled with family treasures, memorabilia and stored pieces from their lives. It’s in this setting that Hoyak and Suskind live out their hopes, dreams, and frustrations as they bond together during their childhood and sing their hearts out!  The two brilliantly and believably become excitable little children who grow together and inevitably apart from one another as their evolving feelings and independence present challenges into young adulthood. Again Lippa’s score propels the emotions which always seem to be the focal point of the story with numbers such as the playful ‘Think Big”, “Trouble With Men”, (showing how Jen’s troubles with Dad affected her), “Hold Down the Fort”, (as the two march into young adulthood) “It Took Me While” and “Run and Hide”, as the two part bitterly ending Act One.

John and Jen could have ended gloriously after Act One, which I understand was the original idea during the reading stages of this Off- Broadway show that opened in 1995. However the creators decided to add a second act as Jen’s story takes on a new life after the death of her brother. As Jen struggles with layers of sadness, guilt and regret while raising a young son, also named John, also played by Hoyak after her brother, the plot takes on a whole new set of problems arising with Jen’s inability to let her son grow on his own fearing she would lose him as well. It was Act Two that I became aware of the similarities of this piece with Brian Yorkey, Tom Kit’s Broadway hit show “Next To Normal” who’s story-line revolves around the loss of a family member and repercussions that affect a family when a mother mourns and suffers through the loss alongside her family.

Jen relives her memories of her brother with and through her son in songs “Old Clothes” and “Just Like You” as her son struggles to become his own person apart from his uncle’s memory and Jen struggles to find a way to deal with letting go. Powerful songs such as “The Road Ends Here” (Jen’s recognition to let go and move on) and the ending song “Every Goodbye is Hello” bring the show to full circle leaving a totally immersed audience perhaps thinking about friends and family members facing the reality we call… life.

JOHN and JEN plays at The Eagle Theatre, 208 Vine St. Hammonton, NJ on selected dates through April 9. For tickets and information: visit www.eagletheatre.org or call 609.704.5012

Production Photos: Chris Miller

photo: Adam Hoyak (John), Kimberly Suskind (Jen), Artistic Director Ted Wioncek III, Pati Buehler ( PBENT.com/BWW.com) standing.

The Eagle Theatre’s GODSPEL is Glorious Fun!

img_5106The Eagle Theatre takes a leap of faith that works.

Artistic Director Ted Wioncek III puts his trust in his cast creating a rousing rendition of a Schwartz favorite. Eagle’s GODSPELL transforms this popular flower- powered faith musical to an energized clever catechism lesson of Christ’s teaching. The cast of this relentlessly perky production of the 1971 musical turns parables from the Gospels into a series of musical teaching moments. They virtually never stops bopping, bouncing, bounding, climbing on arched steel sets across the stage and zooming up the aisles of the theater. It’s like being trapped in a Play-O-Rama with a bunch of super talented adult/children.

Conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak and featuring a tuneful score by Stephen Schwartz, “Godspell” was a monster hit when it opened Off Broadway 40+ years ago, running more than 2,000 performances and later being turned into a syrupy movie with a young Victor Garber as Jesus in 1973.

img_5103

Eagle’s sets by Chris Miller and Ted Wioneck is a big part of the success of this production. A large center stage consisting of elevated wood planks places the audience on either side of the nonstop action. Director Wioncek gives this witty cast carte blanche banking on their talent and comedic timing…and it works!img_5101

Sal Pavia plays Christ– in-a-hoodie as the pacing preacher, pleasantly disciplining his would-be disciples while serving as the MC/ host of this production. In addition Pavia is responsible for the frenzied choreography. The parables  appear to be almost totally improvisational theatre at its best, though I know Wioncek’s hand was at the helm of the action. Several cultural and modern references are blurted out, much to the audience’s delight. Pavia’s cut and thrust action with fellow Eagle favorite Tim Rinehart is a great counterpart. Rinehart’s snarky, straight man strategy that he does so well, steals scenes nicely. The talented Will Connel, Rajeer Alford and Justin Mazzella solo spots are equally entertaining. Did I mention that every cast member plays an instrument, some learning songs for the first time for this production? The ladies are just as gifted; the violin playing Abigail Allwein, Guitar playing Maggie-Griffin Smith. Finishing out the talented cast are Cailene Kilcoyne, Loulu Luzi and Kimberly Suskind. All offer img_5102wonderful stand alone performances as well.

Schwartz found artistic success with his Old Testament musical, Children of Eden, and stunning popular success with Wicked. Yet the music of Godspell transcends into a super-genre sound with such favorites as “Prepare Ye” and “Day by Day” both solid standards, and the turbulent “All for the Best” is almost as well known. From the enlightening “Learn Your Lessons Well” to the gospel-tinged “Bless the Lord” to the serenely haunting finale “Beautiful City,” this is a score that finds faith anywhere and everywhere it can. Eagle’s triumphant performance is delightfully satisfying for all Godspell fans.

GODSPELL plays at the Eagle Theatre, Hammonton NJ. on selected dates through December 11 For tickets and more information visit www.theeagletheatre.com or call 609.704.5012

Photos by Chris Miller

Eagle Theater’s The King of East Jabip grabs the heart

KING_OF_EAST_318“Better to be the king of your house than the King of East Jabip”

Barrymore Winner Tom McCarthy and daughter Kelly create a dramatic piece of work that everyone can relate to.

“There are very few roles for 80 yr. olds, so I asked my daughter Kelly to write a play for me “says Tom McCarthy. The plot centers on Jack and Nora Doyle, an Irish couple from Philly in their twilight years facing difficult and inevitable choices. When Jack (Tom McCarthy) shows signs of Alzheimer’s Nora (April Woodall) becomes his coach-in-denial of the seriousness of his condition. Their daughter Bridget (Melissa Connell) returns from a soul searching trip to India to find her dad greatly changed and her mother convinced that if they move into an assisted living his confusion will go away.

Is there a family anywhere that has not faced the challenge of jabip-pic-april-and-tom-heartfelta mother/father/grandparent in failing health? As Director Ed Corsi says “It’s going to hit close to home for a number of people. I love it because it does take you on an hour and 45 minute roller coaster”. What you will experience is the depth of these three characters as they travel through about a dozen emotions, often within minutes of each other. Playwright Kelly McCarthy captures the whole real, raw picture of living in a loving household with a seriously fragile 80 yr. old. The subject matter is solemn but the balance of humor and tragedy truly grounds the show.

Tom McCarthy is nothing less than brilliant in the role of Jack, who just wants to jabip-pic-tom-and-melissa-heartfeltstay in his modest row home in Philly with a plan to revisit Ireland where he grew up. McCarthy’s Archie Bunker-style personality gives him the green light to act out as he sees fit at any given moment…and he sure does! When Nora suggests a visit to the Assisted Living Jack’s rejects the notion loudly claiming “I’d rather be the King of this house than the King of East Jabip”. The couple re-lives their young married life which was filled with love and tragedy at the loss of their son, and then they’re off to funeral of a dear friend. While there Jack decides to sound off a bit and Nora decides that if she dies first Jack’s not to serve shrimp cocktail at the luncheon as it’s “too celebratory for a funeral”. There is much needed levity in this piece so that the audience has the opportunity to see that in every difficult situation there is humor. There has to be!

 

 

Woodall’s Nora is equally outstanding as she is outwardly supportive but her sanity is threatened as well as any care giver can attest to. Daughter Bridget rises from her own personal situation to support the family and Connell puts in a wonderful performance. Director Ed Corsi has assisted the McCarthy’s project which was first presented as a reading at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. Corsi, a young father of three young boys shows an amazing feel for this work injecting just the right amount of angst vs humor for the audience to relish every moment and wondering how this story will end. So you’ll just need to see the show to find out what becomes of The King of East Jabip.

Scenic Design by Chris Miller and Ed Corsi and lighting by Chris Miller for this “world premier” which looks promising for future engagements and more.

THE KING OF EAST JABIP plays on selected dates at The Eagle Theatre, Hammonton NJ. For more information and tickets visit www.theeagletheatre.com or call 609.704.5012

Photos: Chris Miller

Interview with Philly’s Tom and Kelly McCarthy and “The King of East Jabip”


The McCarthy family proving you’re never too old to create some magic!

Kelly-Tom-McCarthyActor Tom McCarthy, 80 and his daughter/ playwright Kelly, 50 seem to be getting their second wind as they both decide to revisit their creative talents by writing and starring in their very own first play, The King of East Jabip which will premiere at the Eagle Theatre, Hammonton, NJ.

Thomas J. McCarthy was born on June 23, 1936 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. He is an actor, known for films such as Mannequin (1987), Fallen (1998) and Blow Out (1981) and received the 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. He was also awarded the Barrymore Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play in 1997 for playing Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” at Arden Theatre Company.

I caught up with the McCarthy family for more insight into what lead to this joint
venture. Tom’s daughter explains the process. “My dad wanted me to write a play with a character that would be around his age,” explained Kelly McCarthy. “He was interested in a character that he felt still had things in life he wanted to do and didn’t want to give up just because he was older.”

Tom McCarthy is no stranger to Philadelphia and its rich theater history. As Tom Girl With Silver Eyesexplained in an earlier interview; “You can live in Philadelphia, own your home, have your family. If you are working for one of the bigger theaters, you can do theater at night, make a decent living and be at home by 11 o’clock having a beer on your porch.” – Philly Voice Interview.

According to Urban dictionary the term “East Jabip “is a slang word for a ‘fictitious, inconveniently located place in the middle of nowhere’.

Please tell us why you call this piece “The King of East Jabip”.


Kelly's PhotoKelly McCarthy: Dad’s character is secure in his own home in Philly where he is the ‘king’ of his castle, so to speak. When his wife wants to move to a suburb he feels he will lose his ‘kingly reign’ of everything he’s familiar with and is not ready for the uncertainty of all of this.

Kelly relates the writing process; “It started with me writing about a husband and a wife,” said Kelly McCarthy. “At some point when I was writing it, I felt there was something wrong with this man and I didn’t know what it was. There was some issue he was dealing with; it wasn’t just that he felt he hadn’t done enough in his life. I don’t know how it evolved, but I realized the character had Alzheimer’s. So, this is a man who still wants to do things and he’s just found out that pretty soon he’s going to have a hard time accomplishing some goals he always wanted. He has a sense of urgency.”

Pati Buehler: Tom, at the young age of 80, how do you relate to the character you portray and do you dare I say, think about your own eventuality during this portrayal?

Tom McCarthy: My daughter wanted to write a play for me because she knows me better than almost anyone. She captures my personality in a way that made me feel very close to this character. Honestly, I’m too busy to ever think about my own eventuality!
KING_OF_EAST_318McCarthy, from Sea Isle City, spent 15 years as a professional journalist in a career that began with the Main Line Times, covering Philadelphia’s historic Main Line region. . Following in his footsteps, Kelly began acting at age 4, building a resume that includes stage and television credits. She thought about writing a play many times, but never got around to doing it until her father got a grant for his daughter to write a play for him to act in. The play started out with just the husband and wife. It received a reading at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia where Kelly received important feedback. She let their advice sink in and took a break from the play for a while. When she returned to it, she heard the voice of a daughter for the first time. The third character helped her round out the story.

Eagle Theatre has helped assist Kelly McCarthy in several workshops, drafts, and staged readings of play, including a public reading at their New Works Development Series. The play will be presented September 9 to October 9 at the Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, NJ — the first world premiere production in the theatre’s history!  For tickets to The King of East Jabip visit www.theeagletheatre.com or call 609.704.5012

Photos : Kelly & Tom McCarthy ( photo by Barbara McCarthy) , Tom McCarthy and Grace Gonglewski in Walnut Street’s Production “The Girl With the Silver Eyes”,(photo courtesy Kelly McCarthy) “King of East Jabip” photo courtesty of The Eagle Theatre

NEW JERSEY’S FIRST FRINGE FESTIVAL!

635990081574658789-FRINGE-FINAL-LOGOJust when you thought South Jersey was all about the shore and great tomatoes; here comes a festival to remember.

Hammonton New Jersey may boast the title “blueberry capital of the world”, but now it owns another title; “ First town to host the first New Jersey Fringe Festival”.

“Jersey Fringe” as it is called took place in Downtown Hammonton, NJ on August 5, 6, and 7th, 2016. For those not familiar with these events here’s what took place. Jersey Fringe was a 3-day event featuring multiple theatrical productions at a variety of venues within walking distance of the central location and ticket hub, The Eagle Theatre. 15 Producing Organizations offered eclectic, unique selections for festival goers throughout the entire weekend. This one also featured a Beer and Wine Garden, Pop-Up Art, Food and Art Vendors, Live Music and More!

Here’s a lineup of just a few of the live presentation we had the pleasure of enjoying.Antihero+2
ANTIHERO, presented by The Tribe of Fools: A comedy about how seriously we take superheroes and how we often default to violence as a way to solve problems. We experienced close-quarters stage combat as a way to have fun with unrealistic fight scenes in superhero video games and movies. Eventually the piece turns somber as we investigate the real effects that violence has on conflict. The stage Antiherofighting was some of the best I’ve seen on any stage and the show presents the farce of some of our comic book heroes and their fans at their best …and worst; while the content and language is a bit too raw for children; still it’s an entertaining look at how people view their heroes.

 

IT GIRL: presented by Amanda Schoonover, Brenna Geffers and Anthony Crosby.It Girl

IT GIRL opens our obsession with the Next Big Thing when it comes to women in the entertainment industry. Looking through the lens of the original “It Girl” Clara Bow and her tumultuous raise and fall in the Silent Film Industry, this original piece becomes the actress’ nightmare for contemporary women. A fantasia of silent film, clown, tap, ballroom, boxing, vintage gags, and innovative storytelling, IT GIRL pits an actress in a dance to the death against Show Biz to find out if anyone can really have It all? IT GIRL is presented in complete pantomime accompanied by vintage music.  Amanda Schoonover and Anthony Crosby have mastered this form of art with not one moment of guessing what was happening in each dramatic scene; Simply a delightful presentation.

Fring Show collageAt the helm of the Festival, which was months in the making,  is a devoted team of dedicated volunteers many involved directly with Hammonton’s Eagle Theater, New Jersey’s only year round professional theater.  Among the Fringe orange- clad volunteers were Eagle’s own  Managing Director Jim Donio, Artistic Directors Ed Corsi and Ted Wioncek II, several Eagle staff members and actors all putting in their best effort to welcome everyone to the Festival and assure that the 3 day event went smoothly and was enjoyed by all.

NOIR- Conceived & Directed by Ted Wioncek III – Screenplay by Tim Rinehart NOIR– Cinematography by Brian Morris.
Innovations Factory is the core of themeing artists responsible for many of Eagle Theatre’s special effects featured in their mainstage productions, including; mechanical walls, rotating stages, walk-through exhibits, and sensory experiences. Their latest project; a satire on film noir, seamlessly blends live-action with three dimensional cinematography, using up-to-the minute technology and theatrical techniques to immerse the audience. As the vision came into focus, Actor/Writer Tim Rinehart was brought on staff to write a treatment of dialogue for the screenplay. Rinehart’s snappy wit turned out to be a perfect fit for what Wioncek had in mind.
Wioncek, Eagle Theatre’s Co-Artistic Director and a Founding Member of Innovations Factory, explains, “”Tim wrote the script with no theatrics in mind. We intentionally kept him out of the loop on concept, handed him little to no information regarding our desire to incorporate stage illusions and sensory effects. Our hunch was that a stronger script would arise should it be written straight, with no outside influences. The experiential storytelling aspects would come later, long after the plot and characters had been developed. This approach allowed the writer to write, and remain honest to his intent. NOIR will continue to be developed in this fashion, as we continue to make plans to bring it to the mainstage.”
Wioncek concluded, “What patrons experienced at NOIR’s debut was simply a small sample of live concept art. Our dynamic team of creative and technical professionals is constantly working to pioneer new forms of entertainment and push the medium of live theatre forward. Our greatest reward is being afforded the opportunity to share what we have discovered with our audience.”
Everyone went home fully entertained and the buzz is when will the next New Jersey Fringe Festival take place? For more information about the New Jersey Fringe Festival visit the website www.jerseyfringe.com for more information about the Eagle Theater visit www.eagletheatre.com
Photos: Courtesy NJ Fringe Festival and The Eagle Theatre

 

Eagle’s “Our Town” captures Thornton Wilder’s recipe for an ordinary life with ordinary people.

OurTown_390x3901The Eagle Theater in Hammonton NJ clears the stage of everything but a few tables and chairs and two ladders to depict the bedroom windows of two high school kids. Make the dialogue so unremarkable that the audience can pour all their own memories into it. Paint the background with the sound of crickets and train whistles and you have Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”.

Our Town is a timeless masterpiece pertaining to anyone, anywhere. The story takes place in a small town at the turn of the century, in 1901, and takes place over the course of about fourteen years. The story line is extremely simplistic, but allows the reader to focus on the deeper themes that author, Wilder, is able to display. The play has three acts that each represent daily life, love and marriage, and death.
The plot is as simple as can be. The families of Grover’s Corners go about their business of getting born, falling in love, marrying, working and dying. We look in on them in 1901, 1904 and 1913, fastening largely on George Gibbs and Emily Webb, two next-door neighbors who do their homework, have ice cream sodas, marry and have children.

We see the families of town doctor Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs (Jared Michael Delaney and Our Town_1Deborah Jenkins), and newspaper editor Mr. Webb and Mrs. Webb (Leonard C. Haas and Mary Lee Bednarek), go about their lives, squabbling about little things, gossiping about the local organist’s (Tim Rinehart) drinking problems, staring up at the moonlight. Not much happens. “It’s a very ordinary town,” Webb tells us. Love blossoms nicely between boy and girl next door neighbors George Gibbs (Justin Mazzella) and Emily Webb (Maggie Griffin-Smith). Wilder inserts a Stage Manager (Charlie DelMarcelle) as a narrator who sets up the play’s perspective on time and everything else he feels important to share about life. DelMarcelle never misses a line or a chance to address the audience reflectively.
Our Town_3Quite honestly,I struggled to identify with this work and these characters. Its deliberate slow tempo is perhaps either an opportunity to reflect on our lives through the characters onstage or occasionally nod off. I almost found myself the victim of the latter as at times the story falls as flat as a country pancake. The staging is presented in a pantomime with words format.  Artistic Director Ted Wioncek III keeps true to Wilder’s simplistic intentions which should delight hard core Our Town fans…and there are many. There’s also no shortage of gifted professional talent in the Eagle’s cast. Standout performances are offered by our stage manage/narrator Charlie DelMarcelle and the young love birds George (Justin Mazzella) and Emily (Maggie Griffin-Smith). Ironically the Act 3 scene of “Death and Dying” proves to be one of the few episodes of a dramatic display of emotions.

The Eagle’s timing for this piece couldn’t be more perfect as it coincides with Hammonton New Jersey’s 150 Year Anniversary with a nostalgic pre-show immersive walk-through exhibit entitled “Waves of Diversity – An Interactive Experience of our Progressive History”, set to display rare photos, film, clothing, artifacts, and antiquities. Truly a trip back in time for long time Hammmontonians. The exhibit was funded, in part, through a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.
Thornton Wilder first blended the hometown family ingredients in 1938, and directors have been using them to stage Our Town ever since. Wilder’s successful formula for helping an audience discover the fleeting wonder of life endures. The play’s appeal has traditionally been seen as a standard moral of community values. But its real theme is the necessity of living in the moment, of seeing every sunrise clearly.

OUR TOWN plays at the Eagle Theatre, Hammonton, NJ on selected dates through June 26. For Tickets and information visit www.theeagletheatre.com or call 609.704.5012
Photos by Chris Miller

Hammonton Trivia:

* Hammonton was the first Little League team outside of Pennsylvania and won the Little League World Series in 1949.
*Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill Jacobs Biden, was born in Hammonton and spent many summers here with her grandparents throughout her childhood.
* Hammonton has the second highest percentage of people of Italian descent in America. *The Town also has more than 21% of its population that identify as Latin American.
*World famous Hammonton Park suits used to be made in the company’s factory on Tilton Street. Their fashion forward clothing was worn by celebrities and even Presidents.
*The Town is named after John Hammond Coffin, the son of the first settler in the area. Originally called “Hammondtown,” the “d” was dropped later, to make the pronunciation easier.
*Three United States Presidents have visited Hammonton: Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
*Internationally acclaimed artist and children’s book illustrator E.B. Lewis has a studio in Downtown Hammonton. He illustrated famed poet, Mayo Angelou’s final book.
*Downtown Hammonton has the second longest running Main Street Program in New Jersey. It was also a finalist in the national Great American Main Street Awards in 2013.
*Hammonton is home to the longest running Italian Festival in America, the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Festival, which is now in its 141st year.
* The first telephone service in Hammonton was established in 1898. A switchboard was located in the rear of a drugstore at 115 Bellevue Avenue, which is now home to Fresh Cutz Barbershop.
*The book that inspired the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire, was written by Hammontonian Nelson Johnson. The Town was featured in the first episodes of the popular show.
*President Ronald Reagan officially designated Hammonton “The Blueberry Capital of the World” during his visit here in 1984.
*This year’s Miss New Jersey is Hammonton resident Lindsey Giannini. She, and the Town, were featured nationally in the Miss America Pageant.

Eagle Theater’s ASSASSINS – A KILLER of show!

Assassins cover photo“Is something ailing your body, soul, or emotions? Do you desperately want something just beyond your grasp? Well then, step up to the line, aim your gun, and fire at the target. You hit it, you get what you want; you miss, you don’t”. ~ The Proprietor

Assassins is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman, based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr. It uses the premise of a murderous carnival game to produce a revue-style portrayal of men and women who attempted (successfully or not) to assassinate Presidents of the United States. According to one definition of this macabre musical Assassins is in fact the crossroads of history at which some of America’s most despised public figures meet as equals to share the stories of where they went wrong or, perhaps more horrifyingly, where they went right.

Let’s meet the lineup of infamous Assassin, their famous victims and the Eagle cast: John Wilkes Booth (Jeffrey Coon) assassin of President Abraham Lincoln. Charles Guiteau (Paul Weagraff) assassin of President James Garfield (David Nikolas). Leon Czolgosz (Justin Mazella) assassin of President William McKinley. Emma Goldman (Cindy Chait) anarchist known for her political activism who also interacted several times with Leon Czolgosz . Giuseppe Zangara (Sean Elias) attempted assassin of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt.Lee Harvey Oswald (Adam Hoyak) assassin of President John F. Kennedy. Samuel Byck (David C. Yashin) attempted assassin of President Richard Nixon. John Hinckley (Will Connell) attempted assassin of President Ronald Reagan. Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Samantha Morrone) attempted assassin of President Gerald Ford. Sara Jane Moore (Victoria Healy) attempted assassin of President Gerald Ford( Shaun Yates)

The musical first opened Off-Broadway in 1990, and the 2004 Broadway production won five Tony Awards. Sondheim has said that he expected backlash from the public due to the content. “There are always people who think that certain subjects are not right for musicals…we’re not going to apologize for dealing with such a volatile subject. Nowadays, virtually everything goes,” he told The New York Times.
By developing the characters of historic assassins out of the slim biographical information found in the daily news, Assassins prompts us to consider their motivation. Departing from the humanism of his previous musical Into the Woods, Sondheim suggests that political murderers are a product of the American political culture.

The Eagle Theatre creates an enormous amount of anticipation and tense excitement as a prologue to their well staged production. From the roaring roof- rattling sound effects of roller coaster to the scintillating staging and striking lighting design all courtesy of Chris Miller/Ted Wioncek (lighting and set designs) and David Pierron’s chilling sound design, Artistic Director Ted Wioncek III has left no room for the audience to breathe easy throughout the 90 minuet nonstop angst of his direction of these colorful characters.

The catalyst of this macabre piece is the collection of misfit characters in a seemingly carnival atmosphere where the Proprietor (Tim Rinehart) of the game entices them to play, promising that their problems will be solved by killing a President. “Everybody’s Got the Right” is the opening song sung by Rinehart, who looks as if he’s stepped out of “A Clockwork Orange” with pockets full of hand guns to the would be killers.
Jeff Coon returns to the role of the infamous history making John Wilkes Booth Jeff Coonhaving played the same role at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia in 2007. Coon brings his unique experience to the character. Coon implies that Booth’s drastic decision of assassinating Lincoln was motivated by the fact that he truly believed that Lincoln was tearing the country apart. His portrayal of Booth is compelling and ever present as he weaves convincingly in and out through generations of assassins always the moderator of acts of madness.

Our female assassins Squeaky Fromme (Samantha Marrone) and Sara Jane Moore (Victoria Healy) prepare to assassinate Gerald Ford bringing an impossible to believe light- hearted, ditsy comedy to this modge- podge collection of murderers. Fromme speaks of the apocalyptic preachings and her love/adoration relationship with mass murderer Charles Manson. Marrone is almost adorable in a very strange manner. Her co-conspirator Sara Jane More, juggling her purse with a bucket of chicken, a miss guided hand gun and a very delusional persona, is truly the much needed comedy spot in this dastardly ditty.

Samuel ByckWith many notable performances such as Adam Hoyak’s Lee Harvey Oswald and Paul Weagraff’s insane desire to become the next Ambassador to France, the standout performance goes to David C. Yashin’s role as perhaps the one of the lesser known assassins Samuel Byck; President Richard Nixon’s predator.
Byck sits on a park bench in a dirty Santa suit talking into a tape recorder, preparing a message to Leonard Bernstein telling Bernstein he can save the world by writing more love songs, and explaining that he is going to change things by crashing a 747 into the White House and killing Richard Nixon. Yashin is insanely entertaining.

Assassins is Sondheim at his peak of creativity and daring. Sondheim has said that he expected backlash from the public due to the content. “There are always people who think that certain subjects are not right for musicals…[w]e’re not going to apologize for dealing with such a volatile subject. Nowadays, virtually everything goes,” he told The New York Times. By developing the characters of historic assassins out of the slim biographical information found in the daily news, Assassins prompts us to consider their motivation. “(Sondheim) confronts pain in order to cauterize the decay and heal the sicknesses which lurk at the core of our society”. Departing from the humanism of his previous musical Into the Woods, Sondheim suggests that political murderers are a product of the American political culture. With edgy/controversial songs such as “Everybody’s Got The Right”, “The Ballad of Booth”, “The Gun Song”, “Another National Anthem”, “Something Just Broke” one must be cautioned that the subject matter and language makes Assassins a production worth a warning for both children and adults weak of heart.Assassins ensemble

The assassins regroup once more at the shooting range, now with Oswald among their ranks, and they proudly restate their motto, “Everybody’s got the right to be happy,” before loading their guns and opening fire on the audience. The final scene featuring Lee Harvey Oswald is especially poignant as the assassins of the past appear imploring him to act. Enough said for those who have not seen the show.

ASSASSINS plays at The Eagle Theatre on selected dates through Feb. 21. 208 Vine St. Hammonton NJ. For tickets and more information visit www.theeagletheatre.com or call 609.704.5012

Photo Credits: Chris Miller