America, as seen through its villains

 Assassins cast members (from left to right):Jeremy Ratel; Nick Glosque; Vera Perry; Monte Stone; Kolrick Greenhouse; Justin Stockslager and Max Green (photo by Ken Dreyfack)

Assassins cast members (from left to right):Jeremy Ratel; Nick Glosque; Vera Perry; Monte Stone; Kolrick Greenhouse; Justin Stockslager and Max Green (photo by Ken Dreyfack)

Stephen Sondheim has never been afraid to visit the dark side of the stage musical, and with the possible exception of Sweeney Todd, his 1990 work Assassins (with book by John Weidman) may be the darkest and most cynical. Populated by an infamous lineup of actual and wannabe president-killers, from John Wilkes Booth to John Hinckley, the show poses the question: What goes on inside the minds of people who imagine that murdering a head of state will make America a better place, or their individual lives more meaningful?

Described as “the story of America as seen through its villains,” Assassins takes on added relevance today, as gun violence and political polarization dominate the daily news. So it’s ripe for revival as a vehicle to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Rhinebeck Theatre Society (RTS), which first mounted the show back in 1995 under the direction of Ellen Honig. Now Honig is back to helm Assassins once again, in a production that opens this Friday, July 1 and runs weekends through Sunday, July 17 at the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck.

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“With people passionately proclaiming what’s right and what’s wrong about America these days, the time is right to bring Assassins back to local audiences,” says Honig. “On the surface, it might seem that the play is about the deranged men and women who seek to murder a president, but for me, it’s really about all of us and the society we’ve created.”

The RTS production features a cast of 22 Hudson Valley actors, singers and dancers. Musical direction is by Paul and JoAnne Schubert, with set and lighting design by Andy Weintraub. Performances begin at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with Sunday matinées at 3 p.m. Tickets cost $27 general admission, $25 for students and seniors. For reservations, call the Center box office at (845) 876-3080 or visit www.centerforperformingarts.org. The Center for Performing Arts is located at 661 Route 308, about 3.5 miles east of downtown Rhinebeck.

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