Cast Recording Reviews
There are only two recordings of Assassins and so it is easy to include both within the scope of these pages. The images here allow to you to purchase the recordings from Amazon: just click on the image and you will be directed to a page with further details on each recording.
The Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording (OOBCR) is definitive. From the variations on “Hail to the Chief” to the series of ballads that tell the stories of those who would see the chief fall, every number in the show is memorable. The recording also preserves the chilling climactic scene in full. All right, it might not include “Something Just Broke”, but the show doesn’t need that number anyway and the performances on this album are not matched by those on the later recording. I can listen to this recording over and over again without getting tired of it. Like so many “first cast” recordings of the Sondheim shows, the performances here appear effortless and spontaneous.
As far as the performances go, this recording allows one to bear witness to the sheer brilliance of Victor Garber as Booth. His material is expertly handled. Patrick Cassidy is an immensely effective Balladeer; whether this is in spite of or because of his persona is up for discussion, but he is incredible nonetheless. The pair are the frontmen of one of the most engaging ensembles in musical theatre history, including Annie Golden, Debra Monk, Jonathan Hadary, Terence Mann and Eddie Korbich. They – and their other castmates – are unforgettable.
The Broadway Revival Cast Recording (BRCR) is less successful on the whole, although it does offer a fair amount of pleasure along the way. The performances – by the two women especially – are generally speaking broader than on the earlier recording and that is rather unfortunate. That said, Neil Patrick Harris is great as the Balladeer, though never quite matching the standard set by Cassidy, and Marc Harris, James Barbour and Jeffery Kuhn are just grand. Michael Cerveris is far less subtle and less insidious as Booth. The most controversial performance, I suppose, would be Denis O’Hare’s Guiteau. While his interpretation gained a favourable following during the production itself, on the recording he is intolerable. His performance in “The Ballad of Guiteau” (and elsewhere on the disc) is infuriatingly affected. In “The Ballad of Guiteau”: all one ends up hearing are the affectations rather than the song or the character, making him a clear second to Hadary’s interpretation on the earlier recording.
Then there is the problem of “Something Just Broke”. For me, the song is as intrusive on the recording as it is in the show, and I find that by the time it gets halfway through that I wish it was over. It’s the only time the show (even on recording) disengages me. I don’t particularly care to know what the ordinary people think when I’m watching Assassins: being an ordinary person, it’s something I already know and it’s something we all know from the way this kind of event is traditionally portrayed in the media. I’ve participated in many discussions about the song and no argument has convinced me that the show is better with the song included or that it is crucial to the piece.
Which to choose? I’d say that the OOBCR is the one that is indispensable. There is not one moment of that first recording that I ever skip and I can’t say the same for the newer one. Supplement that an MP3 of “Something Just Broke” from the revival, if you like, along with, perhaps, the other snippets of dialogue, and you’ll be all set to enjoy just about everything that this show has to offer. Clicking on any of the images above will allow you to purchase the recordings at Amazon.