Knock 'em Dead's production of Assassins is a chance to see a musical show that was nominated for seven Tony Awards on Broadway but is seldom presented by community theaters. Why? Probably because everyone who wants a fluffy, feel-good mindless show is turned off by the subject: nine of the men and women who have attempted or succeeded in assassinating a U.S. president. But director Scott Beseman makes these real-life characters come to vibrant, breathtaking life, revealing their quirks, dreams and viciousness.
The show takes place in a carnival setting, with David Scott as the carnie barker from the Twilight Zone, luring each of the characters into his hellish web with their secret desires--and giving them a gun.
Scott Noland is superb as the casual Balladeer who moves through the show, providing rumors and storytelling about the different characters with mellow singing that seems to tie the ages together.
The first assassin is John Wilkes Booth. Chris J. Brunt is fantastic as the flamboyant and elegant Booth, gliding through the story, whispering to other would-be assassins, encouraging them with his intensity.
The other principals also build remarkable characters and contributes to the fascination of this strange musical. Kevin Kimsey is especially interesting as madman Samuel Byck (who tried to steal a jetliner and crash it into the White House in 1974), with his Santa suit, rambling recordings and letters to famous people like Richard Nixon. Kimsey manages to inject some welcome, albeit edgy, humor into his role.
Brad Ooley is exceptional as Leon Czolgosz, who killed President McKinley at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo. Robert McDiarmid gives a stunning performance as Charles Guiteau, the would be ambassador to France, who shot President Garfield and died on the gallows singing his own poem "I Am Going to the Lordy."
Laura Kerbs gives a haunting interpretation of the spaced-out Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, the Charles Manson follower who tried to shoot President Ford. Kerbs makes Squeaky so young, lovely and vulnerable she almost wins your sympathy, unlike Lynn McAlister's humorous and strident version of F.B.I. informant Sara Jane Moore, who also tried to kill Ford.
Bone thin, with burning eyes, Wade Moran creates a savage Giuseppe Zangara, who suffered from stomach pains and tries to cure them by killing President F.D. Roosevelt. The crowd that crows about "saving" FDR from the killer gives some comic relief, especially Becky Jaynes in her bobbing curls and big grin.
Beseman's direction elicits strong performances from every cast member, even the "Ensemble" players, who wrench your heart out with their grief for President John Kennedy. His assassination is the culmination of emotion in the play, and takes you back to 1963 if you are old enough to remember that fatal day, and vividly recreates it for the younger audience members.
"Assassins" is a dynamic explosion of a play, an emotional jolt that will stay with you long after the final curtain. It may even haunt your dreams.
October 14-November 12. Doors open at 6 p.m. (seating for those not eating dinner on Friday and Saturday begins at 7:30 p.m.) Thursday nights (show only): $15.50 adult, $12.50 student and senior; Friday and Saturday (dinner and show) $34.50; Friday and Saturday (show only, available at the door if seating is available) $17.50. Knock 'Em Dead Dinner Theatre, 333 S. 9th St., Boise (Boise Downtown), 385-0021, www.kedproductions.org.