Somewhere, no doubt, Randy Wilson has a huge smile on his face. For years, the longtime artistic director of The Theatre Company in Bryan had dreamed of putting on Stephen Sondheim's one-act musical Assassins. Finally last year, Wilson put Assassins, paired with another Sondheim one-act musical, Passion, on the season. He was a happy man.
This is the first time Passion and Assassins have been presented on the same bill. Wilson had to get special permission from Sondheim's organization to do so.
Sadly, Wilson died last November, during the amazing run of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at The Theatre Company. The company -- and the community -- were blessed to have the wonderfully talented Adrienne Dobson in the cast of Sweeney Todd and after only a few rehearsals for that show, she was able to step in to direct the production, with constant input from the hospitalized Wilson. She -- they -- did an outstanding job.
Since then, Dobson has helmed The Theatre Company's productions of Fiddler on the Roof and Big River, and patrons still are talking about both. Originally, she hadn't planned on directing Passion and Assassins, but, at the urging of The Theatre Company board of directors, she agreed to do so. She and the cast of 13 -- all of whom appear in both one-act musicals -- have been hard at work getting the shows ready for Friday's opening night. And I hear Cody Arn's set is magnificent.
"This production offers two musicals in one, each a testament to the genius of Stephen Sondheim, Dobson said. "Passion is a romantic drama, set in the Italian countryside, while Assassins is a dark comedy, giving us snapshots of American history through the lives of notorious assassins.
Aware that on the surface, Passion and Assassins, in particular, may not sound like something that would appeal to some Theatre Company patrons, Dobson said, "If you miss this show, you will never have a chance to see it again! Passion in particular is not commonly done -- which is a travesty because it's a beautiful score that should be shared more -- but together, this is the first time these two shows are being performed together.
"I'm thrilled with how well the two shows work together, which is helped by a beautiful set that houses both.
"The cast is also not to be missed! It's a small group of only 13, but they are doing the work of 50. These are Theatre Company favorites, but this time in roles that are unlike anything they've ever done before."
Passions is a love triangle involving a soldier, his girlfriend and his colonel's ailing cousin. It is one of only a handful of shows that Sondheim himself conceived (Sweeney Todd was another). He based it on the 1983 Ettore Scola film Passione d'Amore, which itself was based on the 19-century novel Fosca by Iginio Ugo.
Sondheim watched the film and said, "By the end of the movie, the unwritten songs in my head were brimming and I was certain of two things. First, I wanted to make it into a musical, the problem being that it couldn't be a musical, not even in my nontraditional style, because the characters were so outsized.
"Second, I wanted James Lapine to write it; he was a romantic, he had a feel for different centuries and different cultures, and he was enthusiastically attracted to weirdness."
Assassins opens in a fairground shooting gallery, where, one by one, presidential assassins (wait, don't stop now) are introduced, including Charles Guiteau, who killed President James Garfield, Leon Czolgosz, who gunned down William McKinley, and John Wilkes Booth. Others include Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sarah Jane Moore, both of whom tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford, John Hinckley, who shot President Ronald Reagan, and Samuel Byck, who planned to kill President Richard Nixon by stealing a plane and crashing it into the White House.
As Assassins progresses, the scene shifts to the School Book Depository in Dallas, where Lee Harvey Oswald is contemplating suicide. Booth, with support from the other assassins, tries to convince him to shoot President John F. Kennedy instead.
Obviously, this isn't your typical Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
Dobson said, "Sondheim actually came across the concept of Assassins in another form. It was originally a play by Charles Gilbert.
"What drew Sondheim to it was the details Gilbert brought forth about not just the lives of these assassins, but also their beliefs and the intentions behind their terrible actions.
"When tragedies or terrible events occur, there is a morbid curiosity or fascination with the reason behind it. With this musical, the assassins are pleading their case in a way, trying to get the audience to see their point of view.
"This is not an effort to get the audience to sympathize with them, but in a way to understand their world and what could possibly drive them to such heinous actions."
I have never seen either show, but am particularly intrigued by the idea of Assassins. Obviously, the subject matter is uncomfortable for me -- I was in ninth grade at Lamar Junior High in Bryan when President Kennedy was murdered -- as I am sure it is for many patrons of The Theatre Company. Sometimes, though, great theater, even musicals, should make us uncomfortable.
"The show does depict some gun violence, but we are doing so responsibly and safely through the use of sound and technical effects," Dobson said.
The cast of Passion and Assassins will be familiar to Theatre Company patrons: Cody Arn, Corey Barron, Zack Brattin, James Cho, Luis Codiz, Armineh Davis, Paul Early, Hannah Ferguson, Christina Freeman, David Manuel, Bryan Pope, Michael Price and Adrienne Rowell.
The incredibly talented Chris Hoffman is music director, a position that needs someone of his caliber because of the difficulty of the score, especially Passion. The orchestra includes Ed Kane, Weston Russell, Jessica Borski Owens, Ray Gonzalez, Brennan Lamont, Nick Farmer, David Hansen, Randu Russell and Joseph Cohn. Orchestra managers are Leslie Borski and Randy Russell.
The always dependable Robin Sutton is assistant director, while Alan Bryant is producer and set foreman. Beth Akins is stage manager, assisted by Patric Morgan and Logan Sutton. Others in the crew are Kathy Oelze and Susan Kelly, costume designers; Woody Lee, light designer; Cosy Arn, set designer; Katy Sutton, lightboard, Mitchell Bradford, production assistant; Katie Svatek, sound design; Kathryn Morgan, sound operator; Jessi DeSilva, hair and makeup; Taylor Christenson, props; and Max Lampo and Stephanie McCartney, spotlights.
Special thanks go to Rich Bradford, Harrison Bradford, Lucas Dickson, Charles Gray, Anna Hale, Mike Kilgore, Mercy McGee, Donnie Moore, Kathryn Morgan, Joanna Mullins, Peter Williams Rich Bradford, Harrison Bradford, Lucas Dickson, Charles Gray, Anna Hale, Mike Kilgore, Mercy McGee, Donnie Moore, Kathryn Morgan, Joanna Mullins and Peter Williams.
All of these fine folks are critical to the production, but special mention must be made of show underwriters Alan Bryant and Dennis Berthold and Pamela Matthews. Orchestra underwriters are Cynthia Christner and David Watson, as well as Dennis Berthold and Pamela Matthews. Eddie and Bonnie Roberts are costume underwriters. Robin Sutton is marketing underwriter.
Passion and Assassins will run for two weekends only, so get your tickets now for this once in a lifetime production. Tickets are $20 for adults, $17 for seniors 55 and older and students, and $7 for children 12 and younger (although I wouldn't recommend bringing children to this production). All tickets for Saturday matinees are $15. Tickets are available online at www.theatrecompany.com or at the door one hour prior to each performance.
Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
It is appropriate for The Theatre Company to present Sweeney Todd and now Passion and Assassins this year, which marks Stephen Sondheim's 60th year on Broadway.
Dobson said, "Sondheim is beloved by the theater community because he is both a blessing and a curse. As an actor, playing a role in one of his shows is a gift. Both the music and words are written so intelligently, that each song is basically a road map for your character.
"On the other hand, his music is known for being tricky, and it requires extreme concentration and preparation from the performers."
Randy Wilson was well-known for his passion for everything Sondheim. Dobson said, "I have an enormous amount of respect for Sondheim and the beautiful pieces of work he's contributed to the theater.
" I've been very fortunate to have been a part of a number of previous Sondheim productions at The Theatre Company, always alongside Randy Wilson. These shows require more effort, more planning, but it's worth it every time. He's an incredibly intellectual composer, which sets his works apart from the rest."
She said, "Directing these two shows was a very daunting challenge. I was unsure of what Randy's intentions were for staging them together, and there was a lot of pressure to get it right.
"But once I uncovered a certain character connection between the two, everything started to make sense. This show has been quite a puzzle to piece together, and I'm grateful to every crew and cast member that has been a part of it."
Dobson said, "I know some audience members may hesitate to see Passion/Assassins, either because they're unfamiliar with it or it's different, or just not their style. Take a chance, come see it.
"Randy chose these two musicals very intentionally, and put them together for a purpose. These are beautiful, unique, important works of art, and I am so proud to be able to share them with our community."
No place like home
Our marvelous Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History, in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Humanities, will unveil a new exhibit on American homes Friday with a free grand opening talk and reception.
House & Home will run through Aug. 11 at the museum, located at 3232 Briarcrest Drive in the Brazos Center in Bryan.
Friday's opening ceremony will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a talk by award-winning architect Michael O'Brien, a professor in the department of architecture at Texas A&M University. He has been recognized for his research, including co-curating the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The reception and tours of the gallery will follow. The public is invited at no charge.
The Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission for adults is $5, while admission is $4 for children 4-17, senior citizens, friends of the museum and university students. Children under 3 are free with a paying adult.
Winners have been named in this year's Buffalo Stampede Art Challenge at the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History. The contest was open to students in grades six through eight.
First place went to Boya Shi, 12, a seventh grader at College Station Middle School. Kamila Vitha, 13, an eighth grader at Sam Rayburn Middle School in Bryan, captured second place.
There was a tie for third place between Alexis Garcia, 15, an eighth grader at Sam Rayburn, and Robin Erickson, 14, an eighth grader at A&M Consolidated Middle School.
Blinn College in Bryan is building quite a reputation for the fine productions put on by its theater program and the upcoming season will solidify that status.
The 2017-2018 season encompasses four -- really five -- productions, including a U.S. amateur theater premiere.
The new season schedule, subject to change as always, includes:
• Picnic at Hanging Rock by Tom Wright, adapted from the novel by Joan Lindsey, Oct. 19-22. The news release says, "This legend has haunted the Australian psyche for over a century. One summer's day in 1900, three school girls and a teacher inexplicably vanished, never to be seen again. In this chilling adaptation of the classic novel, five performers will struggle to solve the mystery. Euphoria and terror will reverberate throughout Appleyard College, as the potential for history to repeat itself becomes nightmarishly real. This is a story that defied explanation, a story that proved that horror is a warm, sunny day."
Directed by Greg Wise.
• The Happy Journey from Camden to Trenton, and The Long Christmas Dinner, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1-3. "Two one-acts from Pulitzer Prize-Winning American playwright Thornton Wilder. Happy Journey chronicles a family road trip while The Long Christmas Dinner traverses 90 years of Christmas dinners at the Bayard's household. Both plays take the seemingly ordinary and mundane transforming them into extraordinary existential issues.
Directed by Jean Daniels and Wise.
• The Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo, translated by Simon Nye, Feb. 15-18, 2018. "The classic 1970s farce is a mashup of The Marx Brothers and social protest when an Italian terrorist threatens a police station, but falls to his death in the process. Winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature, Dario Fo is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, borrowing from Italian commedia d'ell arte and weaving together strong modern political satire."
Directed by Wise.
• Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, April 26-29, 2018, presented in partnership with Texas A&M Hillel. "The night after their grandfather's funeral, three cousins engage in a verbal battle royale over a family heirloom. In one corner is the unstoppable and self-assured force of 'Super Jew' Daphna. In the other, the immovable and entitled object of her secular cousin Liam. And in the middle is Liam's brother Jonah, trying to stay out of the fray. Bad Jews is a critically acclaimed savage comedy about family, faith, and legacy."
All performances will be in the Blinn Bryan Campus Student Center Theatre.
What is summer without a good old-fashioned melodrama? StageCenter, the area's oldest community theater, is planning For Her Che-ild's Sake by Paul Loomis, Aug. 10 through 26.
Director Jennifer Hargis always does a fantastic job with these melodramas.
Auditions for the show will be Monday and Tuesday at 6:45 p.m. at StageCenter, located at 201-B W. 26th St. in Downtown Bryan, above Mr. G's Pizza.
This will be the last production of the current season. Don't forget, season tickets for 2017-2018 are on sale at www.stagecenter.net.