A diverse cast portrays a true rogues’ gallery in the East West Players’ production of “Assassins.” Postponed by the pandemic from its originally-scheduled opening two years ago, the play with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim will raise its curtain Feb. 17 in Little Tokyo.  (Photos by Steven Lam)

East West Players has announced the resuming of in-person produc­tions with the award-winning Broadway musical “Assassins,” from Feb. 17 through March 20, with Opening Night scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 20.

The production was originally scheduled to open two years ago, but never raised the curtain as the onset of the coronavirus pandemic swiftly shut down live events accross the country and around the globe.

“After an unprecedented 23 months, East West Players is looking forward to reopening our doors with ‘Assassins.’ On what was to be Opening Night in March 2020, we made the difficult decision to halt production,” said director Snehal Desai. “We are thrilled audiences will finally get the chance to see this electrifying and intoxicating production whose resonance has deepened and intensified over the course of the last two years.

“We are also moved that this re-opening production continues the longstanding relationship East West Players has with the incomparable Stephen Sondheim, as we honor his legacy.”

EWP’s production of “Assassins” will be the first Los Angeles production of one of the late composer-lyricist’s works since his recent passing this November.

The cast is headlined by Gedde Watanabe, Joan Almedilla and Adam Kaokept, making his East West Players debut.

Gedde Watanabe plays Charles Guiteau, who murdered President James Garfield.

The play is a darkly comic examination of the motives of nine notorious Americans who took their shots at the president of the United States, some successfully.

It’s probably safe to say portraying 19th-century assassin Charles Guiteau isn’t exactly a dream role that instantly comes to mind, but that’s exactly where veteran actor Watanabe found himself when he discussed “Assassins” with The Rafu, ahead of its planned opening two years ago.

“I had to get to know the story and the man Guiteau, and to try to understand it,” said Watanabe, as he takes on the role of Charles Guiteau, who in 1882 was hanged for the murder of President James A. Garfield 11 months earlier.

“I wish there was more information about all of it,” Watanabe said. He began researching the history of the incident upon landing the role, and said it’s a somewhat jarring switch from his last appearance at the theater.

“The last time people saw me at East West, I was in a dress, and this time, I’m in pants with a full beard, so that’s quite a change.”

Directed by EWP Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai, “Assassins” also features Abraham Lincoln killer John Wilkes Booth (Trance Thompson), would-be Gerald Ford assassin Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Astoncia Bhagat), would-be Ronald Reagan assassin John Hinckley, Jr. (Arvin Lee), and would-be Nixon assassin Samuel Byck (Christopher Chen).

Watanabe expressed confidence that EWP has public health firmly in mind and is taking steps to ensure a safe environment for audiences and crew alike. He also said that the play might offer a sense of healing in a time of dealing with a health crisis.

In spite of the weighty subject base, Watanabe is confident audiences will find plenty to like.

“It’s not ‘Frozen’ by any means,” he said.

All performances of “Assassins” will be at the David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St. in Little Tokyo. Performance times from Feb. 17 through March 20 are 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday, and 5 p.m. performances on Sunday. Ticket prices range from $50 to $75. A Pay-What-You-Can performance is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 21, at 8 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at www.eastwestplayers.org or by calling (323) 609-7006.

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