Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Reunion and Reminder

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Reunion and Reminder

Article excerpt

Father and daughter respond to Roundabout's Assassins concert

Editor's Note: Ted Chapin and his daughter Anika attended the Dec. 3, 2012, reunion of the cast of Roundabout Theatre Company's 2004 production of Assassins. This is their account.

Anika Chapin: For about six months, I have had an entry in my calendar for Dec. 3, saying simply "best night ever." That might sound a bit overwrought (I tend to get a little effusive in the company of my own calendar), but as soon as I heard that a reunion concert of Assassins was happening, I knew I had to be there.

Ted Chapin: My story with Assassins begins when I ran the Musical Theater Lab in the late 1970s. Stuart Ostrow created a program with the Dramatists Guild, working closely with his small board of directors that included Bob Fosse and Stephen Sondheim. The idea was for new musicals to be submitted, and then they would be examined and processed through a series of work sessions with established musical theatre artists. It never happened, for reasons I don't remember, but one of the submissions was Assassins by Charles Gilbert. Sondheim expressed interest in the title, and so I sent the material over to his Turtle Bay house.

Anika: To put it simply, Assassins is important to me. I have been a musical theatre fan almost all of my life, brought to my first musical by my father, a lifer himself, when I was 6 months old. (I am told I was mesmerized by the lights going down, but had some book problems with Act II. Kidding.) I was the kind of kid who listened to Les Misérables on the way to school and Into the Woods on the way home and who still remembers some of the facts of American history by mentally reviewing the numbers in 1776. But when I first heard Assassins, I was stunned.

Ted: I was invited to a reading at Playwrights Horizons - there were two done in one day, and I went to the second. I was knocked out by what I heard - audacious, bold, dark, yet tuneful. And quite stunning. When the final scene took place literally in the Texas School Book Depository building with Lee Harvey Oswald being visited by the assassins and would-be assassins from the past, my jaw dropped. Being old enough to have remembered that day in Dallas, I couldn't believe they were actually creating a scene in which Oswald would be egged on to kill Kennedy in order for him, a nobody, to be remembered. Wow, I thought. This is pretty amazing. Although I got a quick sense of just how controversial the show would end up being when I checked in with my father, Schuyler Chapin, who had been at the earlier reading. As one of the very few fans of the presidency of Warren G. Harding, he had a hard time with the subject matter, although he was and has remained a huge Sondheim fan. When he ran the Metropolitan Opera, he tried to convince Sondheim to write an opera.

Anika: This was something different from anything I had encountered before: theatre that broke the rules I knew in order to ask questions that reached into the dark underbelly of my country and culture. I loved that the songs each reflected the era of their respective subjects, and I adored that the show wasn't afraid to humanize the assassins, to make them characters instead of simple monsters. And the last scene in the John Weidman book accomplished something I had never experienced in theatre before and have rarely experienced since. Over the course of a single scene, I was made to understand that which I thought I could never understand: exactly why Lee Harvey Oswald might commit his atrocious act. It was powerful, and it was terrifying, and it is not an exaggeration to say that Assassins taught me what theatre, and specifically musical theatre, can do. It's very possible that the roots of my current life as a dramaturg began in the many long hours I spent listening and relistening to the cast album, noticing new musical quotations or lines in the final scene that I hadn't before, or writing essays in my head about the relationship between the audience and the narrator figure in Sondheim's musicals. …

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