“There’s another national anthem, folks, for those who never win,” sing the characters in Assassins. They would know. Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s 1990 cult musical collects nine losers, fanatics, obsessives and malcontents who have tried to kill the President of the United States and puts them in a purgatorial revue that slashes at the dark underbelly of American culture. For the musical’s brief concert run in the New York City Center series Encores! Off-Center, director Anne Kauffman and artistic director Michael Friedman have assembled a dream cast to explore America's national nightmares. (In addition to those playing historical figures, the company includes Clifton Duncan as the Balladeer and Ethan Lipton as the Proprietor.) Together will they delve into a dark terrain where fury, madness and desperation bleed into each other.
Steven Pasquale as John Wilkes Booth
The actor: Pasquale made audiences swoon in Broadway’s romantic musical The Bridges of Madison County and played an NYC firefighter for seven seasons on FX’s Rescue Me.
The role: Confederate diehard Booth killed Abraham Lincoln at a Washington, D.C., theater in 1865.
The match: With his leading-man looks and gorgeous voice, Pasquale is well equipped to play the charming Booth, whose professional nobility gives way to blood-chilling racism and hatred.
Shuler Hensley as Leon Czolgosz
The actor: One of the city’s great character actors, the versatile Hensley has played the Monster in Young Frankenstein, a morbidly obese shut-in in The Whale and a neurotic suitor in Sweet Charity.
The role: An anarchist radical, Czolgosz fatally shot William McKinley in 1901 at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.
The match: As he proved in his Tony-winning portrayal of the murderous farmhand Jud Fry in the 2002 Broadway revival of Oklahoma, Hensley can illuminate the inner workings of even the darkest characters.
Cory Michael Smith as Lee Harvey Oswald
The actor: Lean, brooding and angular, Smith made a strong impression on the New York stage (in plays including Cock) before puzzling TV’s Gotham to distraction as the Riddler.
The role: A former Marine with a complicated past, Oswald assassinated John F. Kennedy during a Dallas motorcade in 1963—or did he?
The match: As anyone who has watched him play the Riddler can attest, Smith is an expert at combining awkwardness, rage and confusion.
John Ellison Conlee as Charles Guiteau
The actor: Since baring it all in 2001’s The Full Monty, Conlee has made a mark in Off Broadway shows including Murder Ballad.
The role: After murdering James A. Garfield out of spite in 1881, Guiteau infamously danced his way to the gallows and recited an original poem before he was hanged.
The match: The hint of unpredictability behind Conlee’s everyguy exterior should be a good fit for the bonkers Guiteau.
Victoria Clark as Sara Jane Moore
The actor: This consummate soprano actor triumphed as a conflicted mother in The Light in the Piazza.
The role: Eager to prove her radical cred after serving as an FBI snitch, Moore tried to kill Gerald Ford in 1975.
The match: Those who saw Clark’s scene-stealing comic turn as a middle-class chatterbox in 1997’s Titanic know what she can do as the hapless Moore.
Erin Markey as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme
The actor: Markey’s eccentric and intense solo shows have marked her as one of the downtown scene’s most thrilling and unpredictable performers.
The role: Fromme hoped to gain attention for imprisoned death-cult leader Charles Manson in her unsuccessful 1975 attempt to shoot Gerald Ford in Sacramento.
The match: Markey is a fearless master of eerily committed weirdness; there’s no one we’d rather see as a hard-eyed Manson girl.
Steven Boyer as John Hinckley Jr.
The actor: As a confused Texas teen with a satanic hand puppet in Broadway’s Hand to God, Boyer gave an unforgettable double star turn.
The role: Trying to attract the attention of actor Jodie Foster, Hinckley wounded Ronald Reagan and three others in 1981.
The match: Boyer’s bravura tragicomic depiction of mental instability in Hand to God bodes well for his portrayal of the deranged Hinckley.
Alex Brightman as Giuseppe Zangara
The actor: Somehow filling Jack Black’s shoes, Brightman jammed his way to stardom in the 2015 musical School of Rock.
The role: An Italian immigrant and anticapitalist ideologue, Zangara tried to kill President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, but wound up killing Chicago mayor Anton Cermak instead.
The match: Comedic chops and a crazy vocal range are required for this part—and Brightman has both of those to spare.
Danny Wolohan as Samuel Byck
The actor: The wild-eyed Off Broadway MVP has enlivened such works as An Octoroon and The Flick.
The role: The paranoid Byck committed suicide after failing to hijack a plane and fly it into Richard Nixon’s White House.
The match: The most obscure of the main historical figures in Assassins, Byck has two outrageous monologues that should be a meal for Wolohan.
Assassins is at New York City Center July 11, 12 at 7:30pm; July 13 at 8pm; July 14 at 2, 8pm. $25–$125.