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‘Assassins’ hits artistic, emotional bullseye

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From left, Terrence McLaughin, DC Scarpelli (kneeling), Peter Budinger, Kelli Schultz (kneeling), Sage Georgevitch-Castellanos, Derrick Silva, John Brown (kneeling), Zac Schuman and Jessica Fisher are solid in Bay Area Musicals’ “Assassins.” (Courtesy Ben Krantz)

There’s a temptation to make bad jokes about the timeliness of a production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” in today’s divisive political climate. It is a musical that spotlights, if not celebrates, nine people who attempted to kill or succeeded in killing the president of the United States.

However, if you take the time to “listen to the stories, hear it in the songs” of these men and women — as The Balladeer (Sage Georgevitch-Castellanos) exhorts you to do — you’ll find that their motivation to murder is not so different from the emotions driving voters who prevailed in the last U.S. election.

They felt cheated – “I want my prize!” – and, far worse, felt ignored by those in power.

Bay Area Musicals, in its second season, hits the artistic bullseye with this production of the 1990 musical (and Tony Award-winning 2004 revival) at the Alcazar Theatre in The City.

The assassins’ history starts with John Wilkes Booth (an unctuous yet elegant Derrick Silva) and ends, at least chronologically and at least so far, with John Hinckley Jr. (Zac Schuman, in another of his successfully creepy juvenile portrayals).

They’re part of a broken band that chooses Lee Harvey Oswald (again Georgevitch-Castellanos, a polished singer and equally fine actor in dual roles) as the front man in their concert to honor assassins past and shine a beacon for those to come.

Director Daren A.C. Carollo (moonlighting from his day job as co-executive director of 42nd Street Moon) has assembled a solid ensemble to carry the vocal heft of Sondheim’s score and John Weidman’s very weighty and very funny book.

Carollo also designed the spare, smart set that perfectly evokes the carny, off-kilter feel of this unreal world. His wise and subtle directing choices also allow the audience to do what the characters want most – to connect.

Performance highlights include Jessica Fisher’s hysterically clueless and klutzy Sara Jane Moore; DC Scarpelli’s intense-but-lost Leon Czolgosz sharing a poignant moment with Nicole Frydman’s warm-heartedly pragmatic Emma Goldman; Kelli Schultz’s acerbic-yet-naive “Squeaky” Fromme; and John Brown’s wonderfully deranged Sam Byck (attempted assassin of Richard Nixon).

Maximilian Wix, Gary M. Giurbino, Peter Budinger, Terrence McLaughin (ably delivering one of the score’s tougher songs), Rebecca Davis and Eric Nieman (a Pagliacci-Joker hybrid as The Proprietor) complete the cast.

Near the end of the show, Davis, as The Housewife, beautifully begins the haunting “Something Just Broke,” detailing reactions to the death of John F. Kennedy.

It’s a song of awareness — that actions have consequences, sometimes farther reaching than can be imagined — and that a seemingly final solution is sometimes no solution at all.

Presented by Bay Area Musicals
Where: Alcazar Theatre, 650 Geary St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, closes March 18
Tickets: $35 to $65
Contact: (415) 340-2207, www. bamsf.org

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