Studio Theatre of Bath is producing Stephen Sondheim’s multiple Tony award-winning musical “Assassins” at the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath from Oct. 12-21. “Assassins” is known as a controversial, dark musical comedy masterpiece.

Tamara Lilly spoke with director John Willey and actor/producer Marc Rodriguez about the production. Here is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Coastal Journal: Why “Assassins”?

Willey: I am drawn not only by the amazing music, but the entire concept. A musical featuring some of the most notably dangerous characters in American history all brought together into a timeless, purgatorial, carnival setting where they can interact with each other and repeatedly live out their infamous acts and the reasons behind them. On a deeper level, Sondheim poses real questions without providing answers. This is a meaty, dark look at the underbelly of the American dream that is at the same time funny, fun, entertaining and touching.

Rodriguez: First and foremost, the music is spectacular. You’ve got one of the greatest American composers recreating American pop music styles from the Civil War right up to the 70s and putting them into historical context. He must have had a blast composing this show. The script itself is brilliantly written and a lot funnier than most people expect. This is a show that people instantly fall in love with.

Coastal Journal: Why is “Assassins” considered controversial?

Rodriguez: One of the criticisms over the years is that this show is keeping a handful of terrible people famous. I’m not sure that’s a fair criticism, because even without a Broadway musical, everyone knows who John Wilkes Booth & Lee Harvey Oswald are. The biggest thing the critics overlook, though, is how strong our country is when we unite in the wake of tragedy, and this show highlights that aspect. I believe this show is actually one of the most patriotic musicals ever written.

Willey: Accusations include glorifying violence, keeping these terrible characters in the public eye, of making light of serious matters and on and on. But look closer; lyrics such as “Angry men don’t write the rules and guns don’t right the wrongs” or “every now and then a mad man is bound to come along, doesn’t stop the story, story’s pretty strong” abound. We are continuously being reminded that these characters, no matter how much you may sympathize with them — and you will — are not only different, but dangerous.

Coastal Journal: What did you find most challenging as an actor/director?

Rodriguez: Much like when I did “A Streetcar Named Desire” a few years ago, I love the role, but I detest the character. In order to pull off the part of a villain, as an actor you need to find the good in them and contrast it with the bad. Sometimes this requires you to take yourself into dark places inside your own mind. It can wear on you over the course of a few months.

Willey: This is a very difficult show musically for the cast and musicians. There are complex changes in keys and timing signatures that need to be mastered. Musical scenes are interspersed with nonmusical scenes and the mix and tone of the entire composition changes rapidly. We move through time periods, political issues, downright funny scenes that make us question what we are even laughing at and the personal motivations of each assassin for killing. There must be a conscious balance between all of these elements, camping it up and communicating the more serious parts of the show.

Coastal Journal: How are the actors challenged by the material and/or the characters?

Rodriguez: Musically, this show is very difficult by Broadway standards, as are most Sondheim shows. We have one of the best music directors in the state in Courtney Babbidge, and there were a few occasions where even he had to break out a Rosetta Stone just to translate what was supposed to be happening in the score.

Coastal Journal: How do you find it’s relevant to today’s environment?

Rodriguez: It’s relevant in the way that our country from the beginning has always had both division and an unhealthy obsession with celebrity. The good news is that this musical isn’t about politics, and we made a conscious decision early on not to use any present-day references. The characters in this play all believed that they were living in the most important time in history, and this show calls them out on that. We’d be foolish not to learn from that lesson.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 12-13 and 19-20 and at 2 p.m. on Oct. 14 and Oct. 21. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door or at The show contains adult language & content and is not recommended for children.