See article in its original context here by Andrew Furhmann for Time Out.
Sondheim’s black comedy Assassins comes to fortyfive downstairs, and Time Out has director Tyran Parke in its sights.
Set amidst the rubble of a travelling carnival, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s black comedy Assassins takes the audience on a musical romp through the minds of nine disturbed characters, each each one gunning for an American president. Starring Nadine Garner and Nick Simpson-Deeks,Assassins is a Broadway classic with bang, set to challenge and entertain in equal proportions.
Time Out spoke with director Tyran Parke ahead of the show’s premiere.
Hi there Tyran, what was your first Sondheim experience?
My first “Sondheim experience” was when my group of school friends didn’t know what to buy me for my fourteenth birthday. They knew I was into musicals so they bought me the video of Sunday in the Park with Georgestarring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters. I did not understand what it was about, but I was intrigued by it and completely transported by the performances. Many years later I happened to run into Mandy Patinkin on the Street in New York and later met Bernadette Peters in an elevator. Maybe it was inevitable that I would play the role of George in the Australian Premiere.
Where did you first come by Assassins?
To be honest, when I was studying at WAAPA. The third years were doing it when I was in second year and they didn’t have enough guys, so a few of us stepped up into the chorus. I loved it – the show, and also the ability to play with the cool group. I never dreamed I would be directing it years later with such a top cast.
Broadway and political assassination – it makes sense, right?
Well, it did to Sondheim who, thank God, has made a career out of re-inventing the form of musical theatre. To be honest, the characters are so theatrical and Sondheim was very clever to create Assassins as a revue, the musical numbers are all based on popular American styles of the past 200 years so it has a historical context we can easily connect to. He writes musicals for people who don’t like musicals – they are dark and challenging and always very funny but BLACK. Assassins seems somehow perfect for his tastes and we are certainly the richer for it.
I hear you’ve actually met Sondheim. How did that come about?
Yes! I still pinch myself. We share the same birthday and we exchange emails every year. Again, I still pinch myself. I met him because I became completely obsessed with my role as George in Sunday in the Park and as a result I did a six month research trip around the world to prepare. Part of that trip was to work with him on the music. Shortly after, he was in Australia and I got to show him around Sydney a bit and I guess we just formed a connection. The 14 year old in me watching Sunday in the Park still squeals inside me at the thought. He is quite an unassuming guy and every now and then I would forget exactly WHO he was and he would say something like, ‘Well, that’s like when Lenny and I wrote West Side’ and I would feel the earth move under me as I realised, by ‘Lenny’ he means Leonard Bernstein and West Side is, of course, West Side Story, and he WROTE it and refers to it like it was a school project! Jeez.
Do you have a favourite among the assassins and would-be assassins in this musical?
That’s very hard – it’s like picking your favourite child! I love Sarah Jane Moore but maybe that’s just cause I love Nadine Garner who plays her (I’ve had a crush on her since The Henderson Kids!), Charles Guiteau is hilariously delusional and I think I feel most for the way Lee Harvey Oswald is portrayed. I think the collective of them is what makes them so interesting. The show is set in ‘limbo’ and it’s a great idea to see what these people would have made of each other if they were all put in the same room!
What are your favourite qualities in a musical?
Firstly that the music and lyrics work together as text. That’s why Sondheim is such a genius – he is an instinctive dramatist through music. I tend to be drawn to darker musicals – the last few years I have worked on Cabaret (the rise of Hitler), Sweeney Todd (a serial killer who puts people into pies) andNext to Normal (a woman suffering from bi-polar). Not exactly 42nd St!
Tell us about the cast working with you on this project?
They are a dream. You cannot do Assassins without a stellar cast. I’m so lucky to have found this bunch. They come with great credentials and experience and I’m just thrilled they were all available. In the theatre there is a term ‘showmance’ which refers to the little crush you have on the lead actor, I guess it is fitting, given it is an ensemble show, to say I’m standing smack bang in the middle of 14 Showmances.
Tyran Parke in short
Born: Newcastle (the only two things to ever happen were the earthquake and the grand final win – and I missed both!)
Educated: Lambton High School (the sports school of Newcastle!) Everything was going fine till I was 16 and I saw Bobby G suffer from testicular torsion (a twistin’ of the testical – uh-huh) on the football field. He hit the deck like a stroke victim and was carried away on a stretcher. I got out as quickly as possible and studied the art of musical theatre at WAAPA.
Career high points: In short? Really? Anything Sondheim related (there, thankfully, have been many), working with John Bell, my New York Cabaret Debut which was met with great fanfare, a full house and a standing ovation…
Low lights: Understudy Captain Caveman at Australia’s wonderland theme park, being offered 2nd understudy Madame Giry in Phantom of the Opera (WTF?) and the second night of my New York cabaret debut when no one came and I had to pay the bar $47 as we didn’t cover costs. Ah Showbiz.
The future: an exciting collaboration between several of Broadway’s greatest composers and my older brother’s (Trent Parke) photographs. I sent Trent’s images and my first CD to a bunch of writers and we are premiering the show with 14-piece orchestra produced by Kate Cebrano at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Watch this space!