Review: Assassins (Birdland Theatre and Talk is Free Theatre)

By Megan Mooney

A lot has been swirling about in my head since I went to see Birdland Theatre and Talk is Free theatre’s production of Assassins.  It’s a remount of their wildly successful, award-winning, production of the show in 2010.  This time though, the timing has been a bit inauspicious.  The show, which revolves around political assassination and assassination attempts, opened the same day as the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona.

The show, despite the unfortunate timing, is fantastic.  I’m not a Sondheim buff, so I didn’t know anything about the show before going in, I always like going into a show that way.  So, I’m not going to tell you about it that much, just about what I liked.

The first thing was the cast.  They were fantastic.

A snare drum, played by the adorable Ezra Tennen (age 11, so probably hates that I’m calling him adorable…) started the piece and set the tone of actors multi-tasking with acting, singing and playing instruments.

One of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time was given by Steve Ross, playing Charles Guiteau (who shot President Garfield).  He was, well, pretty much perfect.  I can’t put my finger on why I was so enamoured, but I was.  The timing, the movement, the voice, all of it was just fantastic.

I also loved Paul McQuillan as John Wilkes Booth.  His performance was full of wonderful quiet subtle moments.  Moments that exuded quiet power.  It was a performance made for the relatively small Theatre Centre venue.

But it was more than just individual performances, the ensemble was fantastic.  They sit on the edges of the performance space while they are not ‘on stage’, and their presence helps focus attention on the action.  The are there, ‘present’, paying attention, listening, all things that might not sound like a big deal, but what it means is that for every moment of the show, each of the actors are acting.

There is no break, no downtime backstage to catch your breath.  If they just sat there and weren’t engaged, weren’t ‘hearing the words for the first time’, then they would be distracting.  It’s obvious when someone is looking in the direction of someone, instead of looking at them and actually listening.  Anyone with teenage kids can tell you that.

For me it was the perfect setting, perfect sized theatre space, and a great mix of musical styles.  There was some simple, but very fun and well-executed choreography that fit the tone of the show.   The show also has a lot of laughs.  Sure, there are serious moments, but the show didn’t weigh me down.  Bottom line for me was that it was a fun night out where I got to watch some great talent on stage.

Considering the short run, and the last run was sold out bunches, and the cast is going to be the ‘Friday Live Guest’ on Q (Jian Ghomeshi’s CBC Radio One arts and culture show) this week, I’d say you should probably get your tickets for this one as soon as possible.


– Assassins is playing until January 23, 2011 at The Theatre Centre (100-1087 Queen Street West)
– Showtimes are Wednesday – Monday at 8 PM; Additional Matinees: Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM
– All tickets are $35 and available through Arts Box Office by phone at 416-504-7529, online at, in person, or at the door.
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2 thoughts on “Review: Assassins (Birdland Theatre and Talk is Free Theatre)”

  1. What a wonderful show! Steve Ross’ dance to the scaffold was perfect and I think I’m in love with Paul McQuillan.

    Director Adam Brazier has to step in and play the Proprietor with only three hours of rehearsal. He was terrific.

    In the same way that murder and rape are strange subjects for a musical, Parade – – so is assassination.

    Assassins is non-linear and focuses on the personalities and motivations of the characters whereas Parade is linear and focuses on the events.

    Both shows gave me a lot to think about but Assassins did it in a gentler way. And made me laugh.

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