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Sondheim's 'Assassins' haunts the heart

Evan Teich plays John Wilkes Booth in

Evan Teich plays John Wilkes Booth in "Assassins" at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts through Nov. 6. 2011. Credit: Jessica Nuzzo Photo/

Assassins" gets a rare -- and worthy -- Long Island resurrection at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

It took more than a decade to bring "Assassins" from Off-Broadway to Broadway -- some of that delay caused by dark history colliding with dark events. The November 2001 Broadway opening was scuttled when hijacked airliners struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed in a Pennsylvania field. "Assassins," music by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman, finally opened in 2004, collecting five Tonys for its scant 101 performances.

Even today -- 10 years after 9/11, nearly 48 years after JFK -- "Assassins" strikes a raw nerve.

Kenneth Washington directs a deep and talented cast in this reintroduction to seven men and two women who killed or attempted to kill U.S. presidents. But there are few lugubrious moments. Instead, as inappropriate as it may sound, there are laugh-out-loud moments -- mostly surrounding attempts that missed their targets.

But one, that of Samuel Byck against Richard Nixon, remains particularly disturbing, despite its failure. Byck attempted to hijack a 747 and fly it into the White House. Dressed as a disheveled Santa, Michael Newman presents a ranting Byck recording his thoughts. Like many of his assassination brethren, Byck thought he'd be considered a hero.

Andrea Galeno as Sara Jane Moore and Emily Dowdell as "Squeaky" Fromme are howlingly inept as would-be assassins of Gerald Ford, although Dowdell shows Fromme's creepy side in the "Unworthy of Your Love" ballad shared with John Hinckley. Ryan Nolin sings it with guileless earnestness before Dowdell injects Charlie Manson's twist.

More ironic is Bill Kahn's Charles Guiteau, singing, "I am going to the Lordy" -- gallows lyrics borrowed from Guiteau after he shot James Garfield. Sandro Scenga as Leon Czolgosz evokes the downtrodden working man in stalking William McKinley, while Jordan Hue as Giuseppe Zangara offers a tummy-ache excuse for taking a shot at FDR.

But it's Evan Teich who steals the show, front end and back, as John Wilkes Booth. His ghost deploys the fervor of a fire- and-brimstone evangelist, imploring Lee Harvey Oswald (everyman Jeremy Hudson, doubling as narrative balladeer), to do the deed. Michael Bertolini as a shooting-gallery proprietor anchoring the show's carnival conceit, evokes the devil himself, enhanced by Chris Creevy's ominous lighting.

Kudos to Washington for not stinting on the complex orchestration. James Dorney's 15-person ensemble performs with patriotic verve.

WHAT "Assassins"

WHEN | WHERE Today at 2 and 8 p.m., tomorrow and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., through Nov. 6 at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St.

INFO $16-$32; smithtown, 631-724-3700


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