Back in 1977, I had a really bizarre idea…

I started making notes for a musical inspired by a book I’d read about presidential assassins in the U.S. – the men and women who’d tried (sometimes successfully, often times not) to kill an American president.

Lucky for me, I had a friend, a classmate of mine from Carnegie-Mellon University, who loved bizarre ideas as much as I did. Bill Turner, the artistic director of Theatre Express in Pittsburgh, said, “Write it and I’ll put it on.” (I remain eternally grateful to him for that, and for hiring me to be his staff music director for two years.) Assassins was developed and produced by Theatre Express and had its mainstage premiere in January of 1979.

The title page of the program from the 1979 production of my musical

Nine years later, I got an unexpected letter from Stephen Sondheim.

The letter I got from Stephen Sondheim in 1988

The show that Sondheim proposed opened off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in 1991. It was produced on Broadway by Roundabout Theater Company in 2004, when it won a slew of Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical. And now (November 2021) it’s being produced off-Broadway at Classic Stage Company. In the meantime, it’s also been mounted a zillion times all over the world, including a production that I directed at Philadelphia Area Repertory Theater (PART) in 1994.

The Fall 2000 issue of The Sondheim Review was devoted to Assassins and included an article I wrote. Click on the image to read it!

I’ve made this page to present a few historical artifacts that document the journey that began with an idea in 1977 and is still going strong more than 40 years later. Check out my Linktree if you want to get in touch or learn more about me!

And while you’re here, take a moment to look around and read about the SAVI System, another big idea of mine that’s been enthusiastically embraced by singing actors, teachers and coaches around the world!

Images above are from the first Assassins workshop, produced by Theatre Express at The Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh in the summer of 1978. The Ontological-Hysterical influence is apparent in Bill Turner’s staging. Without a program, I can’t remember all the names of the participants, but there’s Jed Harris and Susan Cash, who were Theatre Express company members, and CMU classmates Tom Hearn and Alex Wright.

A feature article by George Anderson that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on January 12, 1979.
The program from the Assassins workshop at Playwrights Horizons on December 18, 1989. My colleague Joe Deer was a Production Assistant on this reading, before going on to a distinguished career in academia.
This good-looking youth is me in December 1990, outside of Playwrights Horizons, where Assassins was in previews

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. Charlie this is incredible!

    Thank you for sharing. I’m surprised I just now know about this.

    You rock, my friend! Looking forward to your next brilliant idea and future stories.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *