'Berg Theatre tackles challenging Sondheim musical 'Assassins'

Assassins, a journey through the dark side of the American dream, is coming to the Heidelberg University stage. Heidelberg’s School of Music & Theatre will present the Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman Tony-winning musical, its season finale, April 18-21.

Directed by Karla Kash, associate professor of theatre, with musical direction by instructor Michael Shirtz, Assassins explores the lives of nine people who either killed or tried to kill one of the presidents of the United States. From John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald and beyond, the stories of our country’s most successful and would-be assassins intersect in unexpected ways, creating a powerful yet unnervingly funny look at some of the most shocking moments in U.S. history.

The student actors and production team have enjoyed working on Assassins, even in light of its difficult topics.

“It has been a blast digging into the complex and interesting characters presented in Assassins while still enjoying Sondheim’s amazing music,” said freshman music education major Elijah Shiley, who plays Leon Czolgosz. Junior theatre major Sam Barker, who’s assisting as stage manager and with set design and scenes, added, “The experience of working on this production has been exhausting but so rewarding. The talent of these actors blows me away every rehearsal.”

Freshman Mackenzie Ludwig, who is majoring in acting and psychology, acknowledged the challenges the production has presented. “Assassins has difficult topics that are interesting to navigate, especially with gun violence in our country today,” she said. “It dissects the problems that started way before our time. Mackenzie is cast in multiple roles in the production – Proprietor Showgirl, Ensemble, Dramaturgy, Dance Captain and Assistant Costumer – and she has embraced that challenge as well.

“It has been a beast taking it all on, but seeing it come together is something truly magical that feels important for people to see,” she said.

Cast in leading roles are: Zaria Keys, the Proprietor; Zach Abraham, Sarah Jewell and Lexi Lang, the Balladeers; Hannah Lewis as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme; Natalie Joritz as Sara Jane Moore; Amelia Hammond as Emma Goldman; Jack Mills as John Hinckley Jr.; C.J. Davis as John Wilkes Booth; Dermot Healy as Charles Guiteau; Jer Marshall as Giuseppe Zangara; Jadon Muniz as Samuel Byck; Zach Abraham as Lee Harvey Oswald; Garrett Hummel, President Gerald Ford; Aaron Wilson, President James A. Garfield.

Performing as bystanders, fairgoers, ensemble and understudies include: Emma Goldman, Simon Fletcher, Garrett Hummel; Riley Ameel; Aaron Wilson, Mackenzie Ludwig, Meg Amburgey; Syd Mendez, Justin James, Kathie Albright, Becca Young, Serria Allen, Opossum Kreuscher, Lauren Price, Bri Clark and Chance Elrich.

The choreographer is Pamela Shirtz and the stage manager is Autumn Perry. Sue Hlavinka is the set, costume and lighting designer.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, April 18-20, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 21. Tickets are available at gundlachtheatre.org.

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