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Leave it to Stephen Sondheim to make things difficult for himself. After writing his most accessible mature musical, Into the Woods, in 1987, he collaborated with author John Weidman on an extremely disturbing topic: Assassins, which depicts the various people who tried--with or without success--to kill a United States president. The characters, ranging from John Wilkes Booth to John Hinckley Jr., all express different motivations--love, fame, freedom from tyranny, stomach pain--but are united in their frustration with the idea of the American dream and believe that killing a president is the only way to achieve it. The songs the assassins sing cover a similarly wide range of Americana, including numbers in the style of Stephen Foster and Sousa, and as is common with Sondheim's music, many of the songs could pass for enjoyable casual listening out of context. (Best example: the lovely ballad "Unworthy of Your Love" could have been a hit for the Carpenters, but it's sung by Hinckley to Jodie Foster and by Lynne "Squeaky" Fromme to Charles Manson.) Careful attention, however, reveals a work of penetrating power.