Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco


Once again the Venus Rising Company of Walnut Creek has done an innovative production. This time the small but talented group tackle the very difficult Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Assassins. Assassins challenges the audience's intellect and emotions. It is not a musical for every theatregoer; the challenge of the music and lyrics are also difficult for any company. Also, there are only nine songs in the 105 minute, no-intermission production.

The Venus Rising Company, on a very limited budget and in very small space, presents an excellent production of the Sondheim work. The voices of these talented young actors are exceptional. They are able to convey the spirit of the assassins that lived long before the cast-members were born.

The production examines closely the gunmen and women from John Wilkes Booth and Charles Guiteau to the duo of Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, and ends with Lee Harvey Oswald. There are some memorable tunes in this brief score. The prettiest ballad is "Unworthy of Your Love" which John Hinckley sings to a photo of Jodie Foster before going out to shoot President Ronald Reagan. This was sung by Adam Elsberry and Lauren White, whose voices give great feeling in the song.

The most impressive performances are by Chuck Rea playing John Wilkes Booth and Sean Griffin as The Balladeer. Mr. Rea sings his role as a polished, but very unapologetic and completely self centered, person. Sean Griffin has a good strong voice as the Balladeer and is also very impressive as Lee Harvey Oswald.

Chris Olson plays the flamboyant nut-case, Charles Guiteau. He's hilarious, touching, and he sings the role quite well. I love his rendition of the "Ballad of Guiteau".

Javier Munoz and Brian Crosby credit themselves as Giuseppe Zangara and Leon Czolosz with excellent accents and play the characters with ease. Director Kevin T Morales plays the loud-mouthed and frightening Sam Byck, who was Nixon obsessed, and operates on a high when he gives his two solos.

The females were excellent also. Lauren White plays the ashen Squeaky to the hilt while Juliana Prater is the perfect pallid Sara Jane Moore who tried to assassinate Jerry Ford. Trying to hit a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken was hilarious. In fact, I probably will think of that scene every time I see a bucket of the Colonel's chicken.

Once again I enjoyed the Sondheim score of ballads, marches and even a waltz melody.

The direction by Mr. Morales was very creative. As we entered the small theater around 7 P.M., a high-school history lesson was in session. The cast was dressed in school uniforms and the teacher was asking them to name all of the Presidents of the United States in order. This is done in the 15 minutes before the actual performance. Every time one of the assassinated presidents' name is mentioned a student in a black leather jacket yells out the date of the assassination, where the president was and who attempted to kill, or killed, him.

The teacher is the pianist, Tyler Lincoln, who does a splendid job. The company also has an "actor" sitting in the front row as President William McKinley. The students come up to him to shake his hand and one, the assassin, shoots him. The play has begun ....

Assassins runs until March 17 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts,
1601 Civic Drive,
Walnut Creek, Ca.
Tickets are $19 - $26.
Call 925-943-7469
or go to: for tickets.

This innovative company's next musical will be Pippin running from April 19, to May 19. This will be followed by Little Me from July 5, to August 11, and conclude with Chicago from August 16, to September 15. The Fall season will be announced at a later date.

Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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