Actress Kendra Kassebaum is perhaps best known for her long stint as Galinda/Glinda in the smash musical Wicked. But one past project that has remained near and dear to her heart is the dark-hued Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical Assassins, which she appeared in the ensemble of, and covered the role of Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, in the 2004 Roundabout Theatre/Studio 54 revival.
This Thursday, February 4, she’s part of an ace Seattle cast taking on the show in ACT Theatre/5th Avenue Theatre’s co-production.
When I mentioned to her how much I loved that production, she concurred, saying: “Me too. I mean, I thought it was really a perfect production, at least I thought so.”
This time around, in this musical about the rogues gallery of assassins of U.S. Presidents, Kassebaum assumes the role of the all but forgotten Sara Jane Moore who, along with Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate Gerald Ford, both in 1975 and a mere 3 weeks apart.
What are her thoughts on this lady, who was released from in 2007 after serving 32 years of a life sentence?
“She’s a woman who needs to feel important, needs to be wanted, needs to be seen,” she said. “I think she feels she disappears in her reality, which is as a suburban housewife with children. She ends up trying to find out how she can matter, and I think the attempted assassination happened because she wanted to matter.
“I think I read that she knew she had to pick up her soon at school, and she just thought: Ok I will go here, and do my business, and shoot the President, and pick my kid up after school. I mean that sounds so kooky, but I do think she wanted the winds of change to start. But it was really, for her, more about belonging than being part of an important movement.
That being said, the wonderful playwright (John Weidman) wrote this beautiful scene between the two, Sara Jane and Lynette, who each attempted to kill poor President Ford within days of each other. Today, if you simply kill someone and it makes the news, we see it as the status quo, I’m sorry to say. The 15 minutes of fame is now 15 seconds. You can’t achieve fame in this reality, but then it was big news.”
Not many actors can say they have been in Assassins at all, let alone twice.
“I’ve been on the journey two times, once as part of the group, and now as an assassin, and of course I have changed over the years,” she explained. “I have worked with two great directors. John Langs of ACT, he’s relentless. A relentless fighter for the truth. He sets this tone up in our rehearsal rooms, just really setting a tone. Let’s love this play, let’s be in it, let’s connect eyes for actors who need that feedback. It’s a communication that’s so open, and he is so open when he doesn’t buy what you’re selling.
“There’s such a trust,” she continued. “He’s a beast, in the way he runs a scene. It’s a highlight of my career for sure. Seriously. That’s not even bullshit, it’s true.
And Joe Mantello, on Broadway, is a no bull-shit kind of guy as well,” she added. “I was like a kid in a candy store watching that team do their thing. He was all, let’s get the story, get the text down, so we can play and can experience where these people are coming from, and why are they doing what they’re doing. “
Kendra notably made her first Seattle appearance in another Sondheim gem, A Little Night Music, as the lusty maid Petra who sings the unforgettable The Miller’s Son in the waning moments of that show. That production opened, after a postponement, just days after 9/11. She returned to the role in a memorable one-night concert version at Studio 54 in January 2009, in which two generations of Redgraves, Natasha Richardson and her mum Vanessa Redgrave, played actress Desiree Armfeldt and her mother Mme. Armfeldt respectively. Tragically, Ms. Richardson died of complications of injuries due to a skiing accident a mere two months later.
“Petra is a favorite role,” Kassebaum recalls. “The benefit with those two ladies together? Magical. And I love that song so much. And (at the 5th) Amy in Company is another role and song (Getting Married Today) to die for.”
And what about Wicked, the alternate reality Stephen Schwartz musical that made so many ladies Popular, now the 8th longest running in Broadway history?
“That show was an amazing one to be a part of,” agreed Kassebaum. “10 years have gone by since I started that track, how did that happen? And they are keeping that show tight on tour, like a well-oiled machine. I was so glad to see it was in such good shape, because you feel protective of shows like that. I think and I hope the movie of Wicked will be awesome and beautiful when they finally get around to it.“
Kendra will return to the 5th later this spring in the major revisal of Lerner & Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon that has been long in the works. She also has another project “which [she] can’t talk about yet.”