Last night I had the privilege of seeing Birdland Theatre & Talk is Free Theatre's production of Assassins. I'm very grateful as I found out this morning that the rest of the run is now sold out.
I was especially curious about the show for a couple of reasons. One was that I saw Canadian Stage production in 1994, with my friend Christopher Shyer playing Booth. It's particularly memorable as my grandmother had died that morning, so seeing the show was part of my grieving process. The other reason was that we had Jay Davis and Evan Builing do The Ballad of Booth in Sondheim in September, which ended up being one my personal highlights of the experience. Jay is in this production but in a different role, and it is thanks to him I got to see it.
It's amazing how the show came back to me as I watched it. Like the Canadian Stage production, this one was intimately staged and Adam Brazier did a fabulous job in directing it. I'm not a fan of the John Doyle style of presenting Sondheim with the actors playing their instruments, but Adam chose his moments so when they came they punctuated the action, not distracted from it. He used the balcony of the Theatre Centre well. And the design was simple elegance, working in a sometimes problematic space.
As for the performances, they were all great. I do have to mention Graham Abbey though. Richard McMillan played Sam Byck in 1994 and was one of the highlights of the show. Graham topped him. A powerful mix of twitchiness, intelligence and anger, he blew me away. I hadn't see him on stage for many years and it was nice to be reminded just how good he is.
As for Ballad of Booth? Geoffrey Tyler and Paul McQuillan did a great job but I was haunted by Jay and Evan. I would have liked to have seen Jay play the Balladeer, although he did a great job as Zangara. And I did prefer Chris Shyer's Booth. However, this did not take away from my enjoyment of the evening.
The thing that struck me most is all this amazing musical theatre talent we have. And it makes me angry that we don't have work for these people all the time. I glad to be seeing companies like Birdland and Acting Up Stage picking up some of the slack, letting us see more intimate musicals like Assassins and Light in the Piazza. These shows have sold out the end of their runs, showing there's an appetite. So why are so many of the musicals in this city road shows, some of them mediocre? It's criminal that we're not using more of what we have, from both sides of the stage.