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Killin’ Republicans

A rock opera about violence towards certain Republican Party leaders since the mid-nineteenth century.

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Edwin Vazquez and Queen Koleurz Koluchi in a scene from Dick D. Zigun’s “Killin’ Republicans” at Theater for the New City (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

[avatar user=”Scotty Bennett” size=”96″ align=”left”] Scotty Bennett, Critic[/avatar]

“Opera is theater, and without acting, it is just a concert.” as my dear departed partner and theater and opera critic Glenn Loney often told me. Whether it is a Grand Opera or any other kind, it is the same reality. In all cases, the critical elements, in addition to the orchestration and vocals, are staging and sound reproduction.

Killin’ Republicans, concept and libretto by Dick D. Zigun and music by Arturo Rodriquez, directed by vagabond, is billed as a rock opera about violence towards certain Republican party leaders since the mid-nineteenth century. It deals with a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations of Republican leaders from the 1850s to President Reagan in 1981.

It is supposed to be a discussion about the reasons for the attacks and not a call for violence against Republicans. The entire show is sung or performed in spoken form in various styles as more of a concept concert than an opera. The libretto covers a wide range of events attempting to give context to the multiple incidents but fails to clarify the point of the show. It is a mistake in its present form.

Edwin Vazquez, Gabriel Winkler, Ava Jones and Abby Gumpper in a scene from Dick D. Zigun’s “Killin’ Republicans” at Theater for the New City (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

The show is built around a transatlantic flight from Europe to the U.S., focusing on three characters in a first-class cabin supported by two flight attendants. Actress Jodie Foster (Abby Gumpper) is stuck with oilman Billybob From Biloxi (Edwin Vazquez), a lover of Rockabilly, and his wife Goodness Gracious (Queen Koleurz Koluchi), a famous Nigerian singer, in the cabin. The two flight attendants (Gabriel Winkler and Ava Jones) act as support for the interactions between the characters with both song and choreography. The Captain (Youssef Alaoudi-Fdili) is the pilot and an unseen presence in occasional announcements to provide flight information and some attempts at humorous commentary.

The trigger for the interaction is Billybob and Gracious’s recognition of Foster as not only a movie star but also her connection to the attempted assassination of Reagan. Gracious is learning about the president for her U.S. citizenship exam. The conversation starts with a song about John Hinkley’s obsession with Foster that led to his shooting of Reagan. This opening leads to a series of songs about several Republicans who were either killed or wounded by various assailants over the years.

The libretto tries to balance a serious discussion about those events with a rock and roll vibe, but it doesn’t work for a variety of reasons. In the case of this show, it fails on the basis of the libretto being complicated and unclear, the sound system being dreadfully inadequate, and the band being much too loud.

Ava Jones, Abby Gumpper and Gabriel Winkler in a scene from Dick D. Zigun’s “Killin’ Republicans” at Theater for the New City (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff)

The libretto’s attempt to make sense of the various violent encounters suffered by different notable Republicans over the last two centuries does not work in the style of the various rock genres. Understanding the nature of the events is difficult, even when reading the lyrics without music.

In trying to capture a wide range of rock and roll styles, the musical connection between the various numbers becomes muddled, going from hip-hop to blues to a rockabilly-type anthem and throwing in punk rock for good measure. The sound system is flat-out wrong for what was trying to be accomplished. Although the actors wear microphones, the output is channeled through a sound system that can not handle the range of frequencies necessary for clear vocals. Even if the sound had been clearer, the lyrics still would not have delivered a clear picture of what the show was about.

The rap/hip hop style song Gumpper that Jodie Foster does is long and confusing in telling the story of John Hinckley’s lead-up to his shooting Ronald Reagan. Here is one of the stanzas:

Dear John, my jerk

He moves to Mars

Where John Makes weapons

Out of cars

Dear John becomes

The God of War

Don’t even think

I’ll be his whore

Queen Koleurz Koluchi as Abraham Lincoln (hat designed by Erin Mathewson) in a scene from Dick D. Zigun’s “Killin’ Republicans” at Theater for the New City (Photo credit: Jonathan Slaff) 

To complicate things more, the Hinckley story segues into a number about Abraham Lincoln and then back to the Hinckley number, all while being garbled by the sound system. The libretto attempts to fit a storyline into a particular musical style rather than vice versa. The result is a confusing mashup of musical styles with complicated historical events.

All the principal actors are believable in their roles. Still, it is difficult to say whether their voices were up to the task of delivering the lyrics, once again a result of the loudness of the band and the inadequacies of the sound system. The supporting players, Gabriel Winkler and Ava Jones, as the flight attendants, do a solid job in their singing roles and supportive actions, but their choreography in the background is an unnecessary distraction.

The venue is entirely inadequate for this show. The performance space is too small, which puts the band, Artie and the J’s, too close to the performers. The set is bare bones with three first-class type airline seats and an airline serving cart. Two small curtains are hanging behind the seats to give the appearance of a separate flight cabin. The lighting is adequate, given the venue and the action on stage.

Killin’ Republicans (through December 17, 2023)

Theater for the New City

155 First Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-254-1109 or visit: http://www.theaterforthenewwcity.net

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

About Scotty Bennett (80 Articles)
Scotty Bennett is a retired businessman who has worn many hats in his life, the latest of which is theater critic. For the last twelve years he has been a theater critic and is currently the treasurer of the American Theatre Critics Association and a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics. He has been in and around the entertainment business for most of his life. He has been an actor, director, and stage hand. He has done lighting, sound design, and set building. He was a radio disk jockey and, while in college ran a television studio and he even knows how to run a 35mm arc lamp projector.

1 Comment on Killin’ Republicans

  1. I saw the production last night and the sound issues have been completely resolved. The music and performances are great. They did a great show on a very low budget. Don’t miss it!

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