L'événement culturel de l'été à Bruxelles!
The anachronistic show explores the lives of the nine presidential assassins and would-be assassins, weaving together fictional scenes where the characters interact among each other with real-life events.
The musical uses the premise of a murderous carnival game to produce a revue-style portrayal of men and women who attempted (successfully or otherwise) to assassinate Presidents of the United States. The music varies to reflect the popular music of the eras depicted.
The play opens in a fairground shooting gallery where, amid flashing lights, human figures trundle past on a conveyor belt. One by one, a collection of misfits enter the stage, where the Proprietor of the game entices them to play, promising that their problems will be solved by killing a President. Everybody’s Got the Right). Leon Czolgosz, John Hinckley, Charles Guiteau, Giuseppe Zangara, Samuel Byck, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, and Sara Jane Moore are given their guns one by one. John Wilkes Booth enters last and The Proprietor introduces him to the others as their pioneer before he begins distributing ammunition. The assassins take aim as "Hail to the Chief" heralds Abraham Lincoln's offstage arrival. Booth excuses himself, a shot rings out and Booth shouts, "Sic semper tyrannis!"
The Balladeer, a personification of the American Dream, appears and begins to tell John Wilkes Booth's story The Ballad of Booth. The scene changes to Richard H. Garrett's barn in 1865. Booth, mud-stained and with a broken leg, is attempting to write his reasons for killing Lincoln in his diary but cannot hold the pen. He forces his associate David Herold to write for him at gunpoint. As Booth dictates, blaming Lincoln for the Civil War and for destroying the South, the Balladeer interjects that Booth's motives really had more to do with his personal problems. When a Union soldier calls for Booth's surrender, Herold abandons him and surrenders. In desperation, Booth throws the Balladeer his diary so that he can tell his story to the world. The Balladeer reads out Booth’s justifications, and Booth laments that the act for which he has given up his life will not be enough to heal the country. As the Union soldiers set fire to the barn, Booth commits suicide and the Balladeer concludes that Booth was a madman whose treacherous legacy only served as inspiration for other madmen like him to damage the country. The Balladeer rips Booth's rationale from his diary and burns the pages.
The male Assassins gather in a bar. Guiteau toasts to the Presidency of the United States, speaking of his ambition to become Ambassador to France. Zangara complains about his stomach pains and Booth suggests fixing them by shooting Franklin Roosevelt. Hinckley accidentally breaks a bottle and Czolgosz flies into a rage, describing the horrors he sees in the bottle factory he works in, and how many men die or are injured just to make a bottle like the one Hinckley has just broken. After a brief argument between Czolgosz and Guiteau about the reality and context of the American Dream, Czolgosz grabs a bottle and barely stops himself from throwing it across the room. Booth urges Czolgosz to take control of his fate by breaking a bottle himself, but Czolgosz cannot.
A radio broadcast, narrated by the Proprietor, describes Zangara's failed attempt to assassinate Roosevelt. He misses Roosevelt and accidentally kills Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak instead. Five Bystanders are interviewed in turn, telling the audience their personal versions of the event; each is convinced that he or she personally saved the President How I Saved Roosevelt. From an electric chair Zangara sings his refusal to be afraid and that he hadn't cared who he killed as long as it was one of the men who control the money. Peeved that as an "American Nothing" he has no photographers at his execution, Zangara is electrocuted as the Bystanders preen for the cameras.
American anarchist leader Emma Goldman gives a lecture from offstage as Leon Czolgosz listens, enraptured. He introduces himself to her and declares his love but she tells him to redirect his passion to the fight for social justice. As she prepares to leave, Czolgosz offers to carry her bag, to which Goldman protests by saying, "They make us servants, Leon. We do not make servants of each other". However Czolgosz, in his first display of assertiveness, still insists.
Fromme and Moore meet on a park bench and share a joint. Fromme speaks of the apocalyptic preachings of mass murderer Charles Manson, remembering how they met and declaring herself his lover and slave. Juggling her purse, a can of Tab and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Moore claims she is an informant for the FBI (or used to be), has been a CPA, and had five husbands and three children. They connect over their shared hatred of their fathers, and using Colonel Sanders as a graven image, they give the bucket of chicken the evil eye and then shoot it to pieces while laughing hysterically. Moore realizes that she had known Manson in High School and the scene ends as the women scream in delight over their memories of the charismatic killer.
Czolgosz reflects on how many men die in the mines, the steel mills and the factories just to make a gun. Booth, Guiteau and Moore enter one by one and join him in a barbershop quartet in which they honor a single gun's power to change the world The Gun Song. Czolgosz decides his gun will claim one more victim: the President.
Czolgosz arrives at the 1901 Pan American Exposition and sees that McKinley is shaking visitors' hands in the Temple of Music Pavilion. The Balladeer sings "The Ballad of Czolgosz" as Czolgosz joins the receiving line and upon reaching McKinley, he shoots him.
Samuel Byck sits on a park bench in a dirty Santa suit with a picket sign and a shopping bag. He talks into a tape recorder, preparing a message to Leonard Bernstein telling Bernstein he can save the world by writing more love songs, and that he is going to change things by crashing a 747 into the White House and killing Richard Nixon. Then he accuses Bernstein of ignoring him, just like the other celebrities he has recorded tapes for, such as Hank Aaron and Jonas Salk. After flying into an expletive-laden rage, Byck stands up on the bench and angrily sings the chorus to West Side Story's song "America" before storming off-stage.
John Hinckley sits in his rumpus room, aimlessly playing a guitar. Lynette Fromme enters and tries to convince him to play her a song (asking for "Helter Skelter, but he refuses. Fromme notices a picture of Jodie Foster, who Hinckley claims is his girlfriend. When Fromme realizes the picture is a publicity photo from a film, she pulls out of a picture of Charles Manson and mocks Hinckley for being in love with a woman he's never met, which makes him throw her out in a fit of rage. Alone, he swears that he will win Foster's love "with one brave, historic act" and sings a love song to her while Fromme individually does the same to Manson Unworthy Of Your Love. An image of Ronald Reagan appears on a wall in the back of the stage and an enraged Hinckley shoots it over and over again but the picture keeps reappearing. The Proprietor mocks Hinckley by quoting Reagan's famous quips about the assassination as Hinckley fires and fires, missing each time.
Back at the Proprietor's shooting range, Charles Guiteau flirts with Sara Jane Moore while giving her marksmanship tips before trying to kiss her. When she rebuffs him he becomes suddenly enraged and proclaims that he is extraordinary and will be the next Ambassador to France. The scene changes to a train station where Guiteau goes to meet James Garfield. He asks to be made Ambassador to France but Garfield mockingly refuses, prompting Guiteau to shoot him.
Guiteau is arrested and sent to the gallows, where he recites a poem he wrote that morning titled "I Am Going To The Lordy". When Guiteau finishes the Balladeer enters and sings about Guiteau's trial and sentencing while Guiteau merrily cakewalks up to the noose, getting more and more desperately optimistic with each verse. Guiteau joins the Balladeer and the two sing together about Guiteau's optimism before he is finally hanged The Ballad of Guiteau.
Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore prepare to assassinate Gerald Ford. Moore has brought along her nine-year-old son and her dog (which she accidentally shoots), which causes an argument between the two women, who briefly turn on each other. Moore accidentally spills her gun's bullets just as President Ford enters the stage. Not recognizing him at first, the two women allow him to help them but upon discovering who he is, Fromme tries to shoot him but her gun gets jammed. Having no other resource left, Moore and Fromme try to throw their bullets at Ford, shouting "bang" as they do so.
Samuel Byck is on his way to the airport to hijack a plane, which he plans to crash dive into the White House. He records a message addressed to Richard Nixon, complaining about contemporary American life, how the American public is constantly lied to and announces that killing him is the only solution.
The assassins congregate in the Proprietor's shooting range once again and enumerate their reasons for taking action. Led by Byck, they lament that they haven't gotten the rewards they were "promised". The Balladeer tells them that their actions didn't solve their problems or the country's and that if they want their prizes they must follow the American Dream. The assassins realize that they will never get their prizes, that no one will ever care if they live or die, and briefly sink into absolute desperation before Byck coaxes them into not giving up and then leads them into a performance of "Another National Anthem", a song to be sung by all Americans dispossessed by the dream. The Balladeer attempts to convince them to be optimistic and seek other ways to be happy but the Anthem grows louder and louder until the assassins force the Balladeer offstage.
The scene changes to a storeroom on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Lee Harvey Oswald appears (in newer productions, Oswald is played by the Balladeer in a different costume, usually a white t-shirt and jeans), preparing to kill himself, but he is interrupted by Booth. Surprising Oswald with intimate knowledge about his life, Booth slowly and carefully attempts to convince him to not become his own victim and to instead assassinate John F. Kennedy. Summoning the other assassins from the shadows, Booth tells Oswald that by joining them he will finally make a difference, but Oswald refuses. Booth tells him that in the future, when Hinckley’s room is searched, Oswald's biographies will be found. Summoning the voices of Arthur Bremer, Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray, Booth tells Oswald that the key to the future is in his hands. Oswald tries to leave, but Zangara addresses him passionately in Italian, a speech translated by the other assassins, imploring him to act so their own acts can come alive again. They tell him that he has the power to cause worldwide grief and inspire global passion about himself, a man the world has never cared or heard about. Calling themselves his family, the assassins sing, imploring Oswald to act as he crouches at the window and shoots November 22, 1963.
After the assassinations, a group of citizens recount what they were doing when they heard that the President had been killed and lament that even though only a single man died, the nation has changed forever Something Just Broke.
The assassins regroup once more at the shooting range, now with Oswald among their ranks, and they proudly restate their motto, "everybody's got the right to be happy", before loading their guns and opening fire on the audience Everybody's Got The Right (Reprise).