NENAproductions Theater Project Produces Seldom Done Musical

OCEAN GROVE, NJ – NENAproductions Theater Project will produce Stephen Sondheim’s ASSASSINS opening March 13 at the Historic Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove. During the course of history, 13 individuals have attempted to or succeeded in assassinating presidents of the United States. Nine of those assassins are at the center of the musical.

            A multiple TONY Award-winning theatrical tour-de-force, Assassins combines Sondheim’s signature blend of intelligently stunning lyrics and beautiful music with a panoramic story of our nation’s culture of celebrity and the violent means some will use to obtain it, embodied by America’s four successful and five would-be presidential assassins. Bold, original, disturbing, and alarmingly funny, Assassins is perhaps the most controversial musical ever written.

            As the musical opens, a crowd is gathering at a carnival shooting gallery which features a revolving wheel on which various Presidents are depicted. Attempting to entice customers towards his stand, the proprietor of this little shooting gallery shouts out loudly, “C’mere and kill a President!” From this nightmarish beginning, the play goes on to examine the lives of various men and women who have committed–or attempted to commit–the ultimate crime. Sondheim and Weidman show little regard for historical accuracy, freely mixing characters from different periods in a kaleidoscopic, hallucinatory revue. From Samuel Byck who hijacked a plane and tried to kill Nixon by crashing into the White House to Charles Manson groupie Squeaky Fromme to the infamous John Wilkes Booth–each presidential assassin is made to confront the fact that his or her act of meaningless violence failed to bring about the desired results. For these lost souls, Sondheim composes “Another National Anthem,” the nightmarish underside of the American dream.

            The musical comes into sharp focus as we are transported to the Texas School Book Depository, November 22, 1963, where Lee Harvey Oswald, lonely and distraught, prepares to take his own life. That is, until Booth and the other assassins arrive and attempt to transform him into their avenging angel. Oswald, they believe, is their savior. He can justify their actions and secure for them all a place in history. Kennedy’s assassination will be a watershed event–a crucial test against which all other acts of political violence will be measured. They feel this final act, if successful, will somehow legitimize their senseless lives.


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            Rutledge Varley appears as John Wilkes Booth with Matthew Aaron as Lee Harvey Oswald. ASSASSINS also stars NENA regulars Jessica Berger as Squeaky Fromme, Arnold Teixeira as Guiseppe Zangara, and Joe Hausvater as John Hinckley. New to the NENA stage are Heather Brown Varley as Sarah Jane Moore, Shannon Rednour as Leon Cholgosz, Ray Dademo as Charles Guiteau, Brian Craig as Samuel Byck.

            Nick Montesano directs ASSASSINS with musical direction by Jeff Brown.

            The show will play Fridays and Saturdays, March 13 through 21 at 8 PM and Sunday, March 22 at 3 PM. General admission seating is $25 by calling 732-988-1007 or

            In an expose from the NENAproductions website, cast member Ray Dademo offers the following:

Assassins has always held a mirror to its audience—only now, the reflection isn’t so distorted. As NENA Productions prepares to open its production, it’s tempting to wonder if the musical has finally found its perfect era. For today, it may well be that the line between bystander and assassin, victim and villain, is not so distinct. We have known what it means, of course, to reel from tragic events—but, as the years wedge themselves between then and now, our perception becomes increasingly complicated. We have since learned what it means to be swamped in tragedy’s aftermath, disillusioned and divided by existential forces. In an age as fantastic and incomprehensible as our own, caught in a perilous whirl of politics and economy, it might be easier than ever for us to explode—to find ourselves on the wrong side of history. After all, as the men and women with the guns keep reminding us: “All you have to do is squeeze your little finger…”

ASSASSINS is an allegory for our times.

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Allan Dean

Allan Dean is editor, publisher, and founder of the Atlantic Highlands Herald. Published since 1999 and selected in 2000 by the Borough of Atlantic Highlands as one of their official newspapers, making...