Meet The Assassins: Leon Czolgosz

Meet the Actor: Brandon O’Neill

Brandon O’Neill joins the cast as Leon Czolgosz.  He has performed on the ACT stage in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Ramayana for which he received both a Broadway World Award and a Footlight Award, and First Date, which earned him a Gregory Award nomination. He has been seen recently at The 5th Avenue Theatre in Carousel, The Pirates of Penzance, for which he received a Gregory Award nomination, Guys and Dolls which earned him a Footlight Award, and many others.

O’Neill’s regional work includes Seattle Rep (A View From The Bridge), Casa Manana (Miss Saigon), North Shore Music Theatre (Joseph…) and the Ordway Center (Pirates of Penzance and Cabaret). O’Neill originated the role of “Kassim” in Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway. His voice can be heard nightly on Broadway and in London as The Voice of the Cave of Wonders. He can also been seen as Uldren Sov in Bungie’s epic video game franchise, Destiny.

Meet the Assassin: Leon Czolgosz

Born in 1873, Leon Czolgosz was the son of Polish immigrants. A steel worker by trade, the poor working conditions and low wages led to him become interested in socialist and anarchist ideologies. After losing his job and battling depression, he immersed himself further into the study of socialism and anarchy, believing that there to be great inequality and injustice in the American system and a complicit government.

Inspired by Gaetano Bresci, a European anarchist that had assassinated King Umberto I of Italy, Czolgosz set his sights on President William McKinley whom he assassinated in 1901. After the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Congress informally requested that the Secret Service provide presidential protection. A year later, the Secret Service assumed full-time responsibility for presidential protection.

Come see Assassins, performed at ACT—A Contemporary Theatre. Visit our website, and search March 18-April 7 for best availability.

Photo by Tracy Martin of MARK & TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY

Thoughts on Assassins: Human Qualities in These Stories of Unfulfilled Hopes

I have loved the score of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins since I first heard the off-Broadway soundtrack in the early 1990s. The stylistically varied music reflected the historic scope of the tales being told and offered a unification of storytelling the likes of which I had never heard.  I was a bit nervous to see my first professional staging of a score I had loved and had strong feelings about for such a long time, but seeing this Assassins was a full realization of all that I could imagine for this show. I left feeling drained but also knowing that I had experienced an important work of stagecraft.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Assassins: Human Qualities in These Stories of Unfulfilled Hopes”

Meet The Assassins: Emma Goldman

Kjerstine Anderson WebMeet the Actor: Kjerstine Anderson

Kjerstine Anderson makes her 5th Avenue and ACT debutas Emma Goldman in Assassins. Her regional work includes seven seasons with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Into the Woods (Little Red Riding Hood), The Unfortunates, My Fair Lady, The Servant of Two Masters, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Distracted, Cyrano de Bergerac, As You Like It, All’s Well That Ends Well, The Winters Tale. She was seen at Cal Shakes in King Lear (Cordelia/The Fool) and in the Idaho Shakespeare Festival/Great Lakes Theater Festival in The Taming of The Shrew (Bianca). She was seen recently in Seattle in Book-It Repertory Theater’s Sense and Sensibility (Elinor).


Meet the Assassin: Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman was an anarchist known for her political activism who also interacted several times with Leon Czolgosz. She has appeared as a character in two musicals, Assassins and Ragtime, and has also appeared as a character in multiple films. Known as “the most dangerous woman in America” for her anarchist and feminist  ideals in a conservative time period, Goldman is now recognized as being far ahead of her time. She was a prolific writer, penning countless pamphlets and articles on a diverse range of subjects, ultimately authoring 6 books.

Come see Assassins, performed at ACT—A Contemporary Theatre. Visit our website, and search March 18-April 7 for best availability.

Photo by Tracy Martin of MARK & TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY

Acceptance and Being Yourself: Why Kinky Boots is a Great Musical for the Whole Family

Want to hear how Kinky Boots is a family show directly from the horse’s mouth? In this video, Broadway youth reviewer Iain Armitage (a.k.a. Iain Loves Theatre on YouTube) talks about his own enjoyment of Kinky Boots and interviews fellow young audience members about why they love the show.

Continue reading “Acceptance and Being Yourself: Why Kinky Boots is a Great Musical for the Whole Family”

Aspiring to Our “Impossible Dream”

Do you know that feeling when your heart quickens and pounds because a theatrical experience has touched you to your very core?  I can honestly say that the first time I experienced theater with that power, it was while watching Man of La Mancha.  There is something so profoundly hopeful in hearing a tale where the giving of love is not about selfish expectation, but about respecting and honoring others;  that in seeking to be pure in our hopes and dreams,  we can succeed in our quest to make this world a truly better place.

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The Heart of the Matter: From Janis Joplin to Heart and Beyond

WITH HER HAIGHT-ASHBURY HIPPIE STYLE and a vocal delivery inspired by the gospel, folk and R&B artists she admired (Bessie Smith, Odetta, Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Nina Simone), Janis Joplin kicked open the door for women to take their place in what was then the male-dominated realm of rock in all its evolving and splintering forms—from American folk and psychedelic rock to metal, punk, grunge and beyond.

Joplin was nothing like the female pop artists who were charting at the time. Motown girl groups of the early and mid-60s such as The Shirelles, The Marvelettes, and of course, The Supremes, capitalized on an ultra-feminine look and a slick doo-wop flavored sound that featured polished tight harmonies and choreographed stage moves. At almost the same time, the American Folk revival of the period saw the rise of singer-songwriters such as Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Carole King, whose work blended folk, rock, country and pop riffs to create story-songs with themes ranging from political to romantic to anthems of new feminist freedoms.

Continue reading “The Heart of the Matter: From Janis Joplin to Heart and Beyond”

Thoughts on Assassins: Gun Violence, the American Dream, and The Cult of Celebrity

My feelings about Assassins, the co-production between The 5th Avenue Theater and ACT, are difficult to unpack, but I will attempt to share some of my thoughts. I saw the show right after a Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense meeting where I learned some staggering statistics about American children growing up in homes with loaded and unlocked guns. I learned that children in America are 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun in the home than children in other developed countries. I also learned that 1.7 million children live in homes where there is a loaded and unlocked gun. And I heard the heartbreaking stories of children killed, unintentionally, by guns. I left this meeting to see the new production of Assassins at ACT and I was geared up for a challenging show that dealt with the complex issue of guns in America. But I was wrong. Yes, there are guns featured (there’s even a song dedicated to their allure). Yes, there are gun shots (lots of them, and they are loud). And yes, presidents are killed, but there is very little violence. In fact, there is no blood spilled on stage. The only glimpse the audience gets of a dead man is when one of the assassins is hanged for his crime.

Assassins is not about guns, or even gun violence. Instead, it is about what it means to be American and to seek the Dream that is part of our national psyche. It is about the cult of celebrity and what makes someone famous. It is about mental illness. It is about history and all of the people, both good and bad, who make up the story of our country. But ultimately it is about humanity, both the dark and light sides of being human.

Sondheim does not glorify the lives of the Assassins. But he does humanize them. Despite the heinous acts these people committed (and yes, I believe murder is a heinous act), they are human and have the same hopes, desires and dreams that we all have. What surprised (and troubled) me the most in seeing the show was how often I empathized with the men and women featured. I have felt feelings of loneliness and despair. I understand the feeling of not being heard or appreciated. And I share feelings of frustration with government and society at large. But I don’t believe that the answer to my own struggle is to shoot someone in order to make myself heard. And that is where I, and the assassins portrayed in the show, differ.

Assassins is about a group of people desperate to be heard, but who feel lost and hopeless. The show opens with the song “Everybody’s Got the Right (To be Happy).” Isn’t that the American Dream? “Everybody’s got the right to their dreams…Everybody’s got the right to some sunshine,” sing the show’s characters. And this is true. Our country was founded on the principles that we are free to make our own choices and free to speak our minds. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But at what cost? In Assassins, Sondheim gives us 9 men and women who are lost in their own pursuit of happiness and who, in acts of desperation, commit or attempt to commit murder to make a statement.

And they become celebrities. It is ironic that the only actor from the 1860s whose name anyone remembers is John Wilkes Booth. He became famous not for his work on stage, but for killing President Lincoln in Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. The musical forces us, the audience, to question the “cult of celebrity” and consider who becomes famous and why.

For me, the heart of the show comes with the song “Something Just Broke.” All the actors are on stage singing about hearing “the President’s been shot” and feeling all of the grief and loss that come in that moment. But there’s something more. There is also the feeling that we as a society are “broke[n].” People feel so disconnected, that we cannot find an avenue for our voice, and some feel the need to act out in extreme ways. Sondheim and Weidman are not advocating for murder, but they are forcing us, as members of a society, to investigate how and why we feel disenfranchised. Perhaps that is what we see and hear playing out in this year’s election cycle?

I left the theatre feeling sad, but also hopeful. That may sound like a paradox, but I walked away feeling the need to talk to people, to share my thoughts and to find ways to connect. Perhaps if we connect more, talk more, love more and care more than we will not feel so alone and desperate in the world.

And that is the power of good theatre.

By ANYA RUDNICK, Director of Education and Outreach
Photo by TRACY MARTINMark and Tracy Photography

Meet The Assassins: John Hinckley

Meet The Actor: Frederick Hagreen

Frederick Hagreen  is elated to make his ACT debut playing John Hinckley in  Assassins. His recent Seattle credits include critically acclaimed Come From Away (Seattle Rep); American Idiot, Really, Really (ArtsWest); Jasper in Deadland, Pirates of Penzance (5th Avenue Theatre); Mary Poppins, and Les Miserables (Village Theatre), among others.

Meet The Assassin: John Hinckley Jr.

John Hinckley, Jr. developed an obsession with a young Jodie Foster after watching the 1976 film Taxi Driver, about the same time in his life that he was first prescribed anti-depressants and tranquilizers to deal with “emotional issues.” Hinckley was so driven by his obsession with Foster that when she entered Yale University, he quickly moved to New Haven, enrolling in a Yale writing class in order to slip poems and messages under her door. After failing to develop meaningful contact with Foster, he developed a scheme to impress her by assassinating the president. He initially trailed President Jimmy Carter from state to state before being arrested in Nashville on a firearms charge. He returned home, penniless.

Despite continued treatment for his depression, Hinckley’s mental health did not improve and he developed a new plan around newly-elected president Ronald Reagan. On March 30, 1981, Hinckley shot a .22 caliber revolver six times at Reagan as he departed the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C.  While he did not hit the president directly, a bullet ricocheted off the limousine door and seriously wounded Regan in the chest. Hinckley’s shots also wounded a police office, a secret service agent, and press secretary James Brady, who was hit in the side of the head and paralyzed on the left side of his body.

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982 and has been confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. since that time. His obsession with Foster continues today.

Come see Assassins, performed at ACT—A Contemporary Theatre. Visit our website, and search March 18-April 7 for best availability.

Photo by Mark Kitaoka of MARK & TRACY PHOTOGRAPHY

Janis: From Blues Mama to Rock Queen


“I’m one of those regular weird people.” ~Janis Joplin

It began with her friend’s record collection. They were all there, the African-American blues divas whose raw, powerful vocals grabbed hold of a teenage loser — a white girl from a white-bread family in Port Arthur, Texas — and altered her DNA. Bessie Smith. Ma Rainey. Big Mama Thornton. She listened to them over and over. Their bold faces stared at her from the album jackets. The stories they told! — like dispatches from another world. Lying men and hard women, fighting, loving, hating, killing.

“Judge, judge, good kind judge, send me to the ’lectric chair.”

“I spend every dime on liquor, got to have the booze to go with these blues.”

“All around I felt it, all I could see was the rain. Something grabbed a hold of me, honey, felt to me, honey, like, lord, a ball and chain!”

The Joplins had a respectable record collection, including cast recordings of The King and I and My Fair Lady. Janis and her sister Laura loved them. They used to sing along and act out the parts (Janis played the boys). But this — this was something else.

“He’s a deep sea diver with a stroke that can’t go wrong. He can stay at the bottom, and his wind holds out so long.”

What did that mean? Janis didn’t know. She’d never even had a boyfriend. But she knew how it made her feel.
Janis Joplin began her performing career as a folk singer, a girl with an acoustic guitar, singing alone and with friends in local clubs.

Despite the left-wing politics of most of its practitioners, folk music was enjoying a revival during Joplin’s high school years.

“Hootenannies” were parent-approved venues for traditional American music making and safe, mild fun, a welcome alternative to that devilish rock ’n’ roll.

But when the parents weren’t around, Janis would slip in a couple of  her raunchy blues favorites. Weren’t they folk music too? And by now she had learned what the words meant.

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635776339934802285431538372_Janis Joplin OS

It’s hard to pin down a definition of the blues. Some people say it’s a mood, usually melancholy or hopeless, but there are comic blues as well. Musicians point to its unusual 12-bar form, but there are also plenty of 8-bar blues. Others point to its characteristic chord progression. It’s a folk style, but some commercial Tin Pan Alley songs seem to become blues when they’re sung by blues singers. In the end, it comes down to what a Supreme Court Justice said when a reporter asked him to define obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”

In the late ’50s Janis wasn’t just singing the blues — she was, within the privileged world of a southern white girl, living the blues.

In high school she was mocked and ostracized for her clothes, her weight, her bad skin, and her friendships with black people. In college things improved a bit. She wasn’t openly harassed, but was singled out as the campus oddball, someone who went to class barefoot (gross!), wore blue jeans (gasp!), and carried an autoharp everywhere she went (weird!).

She dropped out of the University of Texas and moved to San Francisco. It was 1963, and the hippie counterculture that would eventually replace the previous generation’s beatniks was just gaining a toehold.

She found a cheap room in Haight-Ashbury and recorded some blues standards with future Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen.

She also developed a taste for methamphetamines and got a reputation as a speed freak. In 1965 her new friends convinced her to go back to Port Arthur and clean up her act.

And she did. She enrolled in school as an anthropology major, adopted a beehive hairdo, and became engaged to an IBM employee from New York City.

She also began singing again, commuting to Austin to perform as a solo act, playing guitar and singing. Her performances were well reviewed and soon she was recruited to join the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. Her marriage plans fell apart and she moved back to San Francisco. Her first rehearsal with Big Brother was, amazingly, the first time she had ever sung with a band. It was, in sixties-speak, mind blowing.

She later said

“All my life I just wanted to be a beatnik. Meet all the heavies, get stoned, get laid, have a good time. That’s all I ever wanted. All of a sudden someone threw me in this rock-n-roll band. They threw all these musicians at me, man, and the sound was coming from behind. The bass was charging me. And I decided then and there that that was it. I never wanted to do anything else.”

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UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Janis Joplin Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Big Brother and the Holding Company were a blues rock band (with currently trendy psychedelic trappings), practitioners of a new sound in pop music.

In the 1960s certain rock musicians infused American blues songs with the loud, aggressive sound and faster tempos of electric rock, creating a fusion genre called blues rock.

In the United Kingdom the new style was championed by groups like the Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Yardbirds, while in the United States pioneer blues rockers included Lonnie Mack, Canned Heat, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

The core sound of blues rock was created by the electric guitar, bass guitar, and drum kit, frequently enhanced by piano and/or Hammond organ, as well as blues harmonica (“harp”).

Guitars were distorted and amplified through tube amps, giving a growling “overdriven” quality to the sound.

That growling sound was often attempted by featured vocalists. It was a sound that Janis had already perfected. Singing with Big Brother felt like coming home.

Janis and the band got the break of a lifetime when they were asked to perform at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, a mammoth three-day concert event that was one of the defining moments of the Summer of Love.

Big Brother was a nearly unknown act, but thanks to Janis’s astounding vocals they more than held their own against Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Ravi Shankar, The Mamas and the Papas, and another relative newcomer, Otis Redding.

And by great good fortune, the entire event was captured by documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker. His film, Monterey Pop, is our best source for early footage of Janis in all her raw glory.


Big Brother’s first major studio album, Cheap Thrills, was a fixture in nearly every college dorm in 1968.

Its two big selling points: Janis’s volcanic vocals (“Summertime,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Ball and Chain”) and the iconic album art by underground cartoonist R. Crumb.

Later that year Janis left Big Brother and embarked on a solo career. Oddly, the announcement of the split came with the explanation that “Shortly she will be merely Janis Joplin again, a vocalist singing folk-rock on her first album as a single.

Luckily, that didn’t happen.

Janis formed her own backup group, the Kozmic Blues Band, made up of studio musicians under contract to her.

For the rest of her short career, she sang to increasing fame in her signature style, appearing at major venues such as Woodstock and Madison Square Garden, and recording two more studio albums: I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! and Pearl, released after her death in 1970 at the age of 27.

Janis Joplin’s death (from a overdose of heroin, possibly compounded by alcohol) stunned the music world.

Her close friends vehemently denied that Janis could have deliberately ended her life. In her final days, they insisted, she was full of joy, proud of her accomplishments and excited about the future.

A Night with Janis Joplin chooses, rightly, to focus on her life and her legacy.

Her music has never gone out of fashion and her voice remains an inspiration to aspiring female singers everywhere.

Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine says:

“She was so unrestrained, so free, so raw and she wasn’t afraid to wail. There was always a sense of longing, of searching for something. I think she really sums up the idea that soul is about putting your pain into something beautiful.”

-5th Avenue Theatre Artistic Associate Albert Evans

To meet the cast or buy tickets, visit our website here:


Meet the Cast: A Night With Janis Joplin

Like a comet that burns far too brightly to last, Janis Joplin exploded onto the music scene in 1967 and, almost overnight, became the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The unmistakable voice, filled with raw emotion and tinged with Southern Comfort, made her a must-see headliner from Monterey to Woodstock.

Kacee Clanton Web

Stepping in as the Queen herself is Kacee Clanton. Clanton is no stranger to the role of Janis — she played Janis in A Night With Janis Joplin on Broadway and at the Pasadena Playhouse, as well as playing Janis in Love, Janis at San Diego Repertory, Kansas City Repertory and Downstairs Cabaret Theatre. Clanton has also toured as a vocalist with Joe Cocker, Luis Miguel, Big Brother & the Holding Co. Clanton can be heard on a number of film and television soundtracks, including The Tooth Fairy, Kinsey, Brothers and Sisters, Fox Sports, Cribs, Open House New York, 18 to Life, The Guiding Light, Star Search, and Thirty Something.

Continue reading “Meet the Cast: A Night With Janis Joplin”