Second, I don't mean I literally love assassins -- that would be messed-up. I mean I love the musical ASSASSINS. It's the latest recording I've been listening to non-stop, and I wanted to share. And, it's the holiday season, and I'm in Little Rock Arkansas with not much else going on so…
Here's the skinny: ASSASSINS is a lesser known musical with music and lyrics by my hero, Stephen Sondheim, that takes a look at some of the more notable individuals who have attempted to take, or have taken, the life of a US President. Debuting off-Broadway in 1990, it received a Broadway production in 2004. I was first introduced to this gem via a staging at New Line Theatre a few years ago, and promptly bought the original cast recording.
2004 Broadway production
This black comedy of a show pokes holes in, or shoots bullets through, one of the great American myths: Anyone can grow up to be President. Well, that's not really true is it? For those who have found the American Dream out of their reach, perhaps a .38 Smith & Wesson is easier to come by. This show doesn't glorify these successful and unsuccessful assassins, nor does it ask you to sympathize with them, but it does attempt to show you where they're coming from. While they're considered enemies of society, they're also undeniably products of it as well.
The song I can't seem to get enough of is called "How I Saved Roosevelt". It takes a look at the attempted assassination of F.D.R. by an American immigrant, Giuseppe Zangara. It's couched within a comical point of view of the witnesses who were present when the assassination attempt took place.
2008 New Line Theatre production
I love how Sondheim uses John Philip Sousa's "El Capitan" (and a little "Washington Post March") to musically establish this "Presidential" tone. Love. You'll recognize 'em. I also love how he gives us a subtle taste of a little Italian flavor in the section where Giuseppe Zangara is pleading his case -- Zangara being Italian. GENIUS! I can't help it, I love this stuff...
I've included the lyrics to this one too, cause they can be hard to catch -- plus I want Sondheim's lyrical brilliance to be evident. :)
The beginning starts with the radio announcement of the happenings from the beginning to around 37 seconds.
Then we go into the eyewitness accounts. Hilarious.
At 1:29 we hear from Zangara. At around 1min. 59 seconds is when there's an infusion of that little Italian flair I was talking about.
After that the back and forth with the witnesses and Zangara continues.
That was President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt,
ladies and gentlemen, speaking to a crowd
of supporters here in Miami's beautiful Bayfront Park.
A group of notables are pressing in around
the President-elect's car.
There's Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago, and-
There's been a shot! I can't see-wait!
Mr. Roosevelt is waving! He's all right!
But Mayor Cermak has been hit!
The police have somebody in custody. An immigrant.
We take you now to a group of eyewitnesses
who will tell us what they saw!
We're crowded up close,
And I see this guy,
He's squeezing by,
I catch his eye,
I say to him, "Where do you
Think you are trying to go, boy?
I say, "Listen, you runt,
You're not pulling that stunt,
No gentleman pushes his way to the front."
I say, "Move to the back!", which he does
with a grunt-
Which is how I saved Roosevelt!
Well, I'm in my seat,
I get up to clap,
I feel this tap,
I turn-this sap,
He says he can't see,
I say, "Find a lap
And go sit on it!"
Which is how I saved-
He started to swear
And he climbed on a chair,
He was aiming a gun-I was standing right there-
So I pushed it as hard as I could in the air,
Which is how I saved Roosevelt!
Lucky I was there-
That's why he was standing back so far-!
That's why when he aimed, He missed the car-!
Just lucky I was there,
Or we'd have been left
Bereft of F.D.R.!
You think that I scare?
You think that I care?
I look at the world-
No good. No fair. Nowhere.
When I am boy,
I work in a ditch,
The smart and the rich
Don't give no glance.
Ever since then, because of them,
I have the sickness in the stomach,
Which is the way I make my idea
To go out and kill Roosevelt.
First I was figure I kill Hoover,
I get even for the Stomach.
Only Hoover up in Washington.
Is wintertime in Washington,
Too cold for the stomach in Washington-
I go down to Miami Kill Roosevelt.
Men with the money,
they control everything.
No make no difference.
You think I care who I kill?
I no care who I kill,
Long as it's King!
[BYSTANDER #4 (MAN)]
The crowd's breaking up
And I hear these shots,
And I mean lots-
[BYSTANDER #5 (HIS WIFE)]
I thought I'd plotz-
I spotted hi-
My stomach was tied in knots-
So I barrelled-
No, happened was this:
He was blowing a kiss-
She means Roosevelt-
I was saying to Harold, "This weather is bliss!"
When you think that we might have missed seeing
Lucky we were there!
It was a historical event-!
Worth every penny that we spent!
Just lucky we were there!
To think, if I let him get up closer-!
I saw right away he was insane_
Oh, this is my husband, we're from Maine-
He told me to sit, but I said, "No, Sir!"
This makes our vacation a real success!
Are you with the press?
Oh God, I'm a mess...
Some left wing foreigner, that's my guess-
You think I am left?
No left, no right,
Zangara have nothing,
No luck, no girl,
Zangara no smart, no school,
But Zangara no foreign tool,
And why there no photographers?
For Zangara no photographers!
Only capitalists get photographers!
I was there!
I'm on the front page-
Is that bizarre?
And all of those pictures,
Like a star!
And soon no
Just lucky I was there!
We might have been left
Bereft of F.