Assassins – A Musical Starring The Nine People Who Have Tried Or Successfully Killed U.S. Presidents

Laura Sportiello, Nick Arceo, Mack Spotts and Neala Barron. Photo: Elizabeth Stenholt Photography
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At 721 Howard Street, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre is located in the South most point of Evanston. The other side of the road is Rogers Park, Chicago city limits. 

Currently in its 26th season, Theo Ubique is an intimate, one-room space. Beyond the check-in area for the ticketless venue, the theater opens up to the stage. On the same level as where actors perform, there are a handful of tables and chairs for those who arrived 90 minutes before the play for a two-course dinner and dessert. 

Further away from the stage, there are a handful of chairs that ascend into two tiered levels for a total of 80 house seats. Behind the floor-level stage is a four-piece band that plays the music for the play’s soundtrack by Stephen Sondheim (who also composed for West Side Story, Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods). 

Mack Spotts, Neala Barron and Nick Arceo. Photo: Elizabeth Stenholt Photography

Assassins – based on a book by John Weidman and an idea by Charles Gilbert Jr. – follows nine people, four of whom killed presidents and five who planned or attempted to. Full of themes of celebrity and violence, the disturbing and humorous musical has won five Tony Awards. 

It all starts off with a metaphorical bang. The play’s narrator, John Wilkes Booth, played by Neala Barron, lays out several guns on the stage, singing encouragements for the rest of the characters, circling around, to shoot the presidents. They each get their second in the spotlight, monologuing or singing through their motives and courses of action. 

Neala Barron as John Wilkes Booth. Photo: Elizabeth Stenholt Photography

First to take the stage is John Wilkes Booth, perhaps the most famous of the presidential assassins for killing Abraham Lincoln. Neala Barron, the actress who played him, has starred in Theo Ubique’s run of Hello Again, plus Porchlight Music Theatre’s Cabaret and Merrily We Roll Along and productions at more than six other Chicago theaters. On TV, catch her in Chicago Med and Night Sky.

Nick Arceo plays Charles Guiteau, who killed James Garfield because he falsely believed that he aided in Garfield’s presidential victory and deserved some kind of compensation. In the Chicagoland area, Arceo has performed in productions of Merrily We Roll Along, La Trout Lily, City of Angels and a handful of other plays. Regionally, he’s been in Pippin and Funny Girl

Nick Arceo as Charles Guiteau. Photo: Elizabeth Stenholt Photography

Jon Parker Jackson is Sam Byck, who attempted to hijack and crash a plane into the White House to assassinate Richard Nixon. During the play, Jackson is dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, as Byck was arrested for protesting in front of the White House in such garb the Christmas before his assassination attempt. Jackson has starred in Theo’s The Full Monty and Godspell. In Chicago, he has been in Music Theater Works’ Billy Elliot and Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s Anything Goes

Will Koski is Ronald Regan’s attempted assassin John Hinckley Jr, who shot at the president as he left a hotel. Hinckley Jr., was obsessed with Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, a movie in which her co-star Robert De Niro plans to kill a presidential candidate. When Hinckley Jr.’s attempts at stalking Foster are unsuccessful at getting her attention, he plots to assassinate the president. At Paramount Theatre, Koski was in Into The Woods

Patrick O’Keefe. Photo: Elizabeth Stenholt Photography

Patrick O’Keefe is first introduced to the audience as the Balladeer, singing characters through their trials with his powerhouse voice. Later, he reveals himself as Lee Harvey Oswald, who killed John F. Kennedy. O’Keefe has been in Theo’s production of 8-Track, plus Chicago productions of Sweeney Todd, Head Over Heels and Mamma Mia!, among others. 

Amanda Rodriguez plays Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson’s cult who attempted to assassinate Gerald Ford. Rodriguez has performed in regional productions of Peter Pan: Wendy’s Adventure to Neverland, Return to Sender, …Spelling Bee, The Mole Stories and Diary of a Worm, a Spider, and a Fly

Laura Sportiello is Sara Jane Moore, another assassin who attempted to take Gerald Ford’s life, no more than three weeks after Fromme did. Sportiello has been in Theo’s productions of Once Upon a Mattress and The Most Happy Fella. She has a handful of Chicago credits, including Music Theater Works’ Ragtime, Gypsy, My Fair Lady and Guys & Dolls, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s A Chorus Line and Bit Noise Theatre’s Cabaret

Amanda Rodriguez and Laura Sportiello. Photo: Elizabeth Stenholt Photography

Mack Spotts plays William McKinley’s assassin, Leon Czolgosz, whose motives lie in that he was an anarchist. Spotts has been in Chicago productions of Merrily We Roll Along, She Loves Me and St. Sebastian. Their regional credits include Sister Act and Newsies.

Last but not least, Josh Pablo Szabo plays Giuseppe Zangara, who attempted to assassinate Franklin D. Roosevelt. Aside from Theo’s production of Hello Again, Pablo Szabo has performed in Chicago runs of Rent, Evita and Ragtime. They have TV and film credits for Beat, Succubabe and 1968

Until the end, Assassins bends time and morals as the characters interact over the span of more than 100 years, inspiring each other to pull the trigger. 

Company of Assassins. Photo: Elizabeth Stenholt Photography

Though the bar was closed during the hour-and-50-minute long, no intermission play, guests were free to grab a drink both before and after the play. Before performances, Theo Ubique offers a pre-fixe dinner menu with food from The Blue Horse Tavern for $33. 

Assassins is playing at Theo Ubique through December 17, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $35 and are available at or (773) 939-4101. 


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