America does offer equal opportunity for all when it comes to gun violence. That's the disquieting motif of Stephen Sondheim's brutally funny musical (book by John Weidman), which celebrates the horrific deeds of history's most infamous murderers. The phrase "guns at the ready" is certainly appropriate here; and the gallery of rogues who pull the triggers are an unsettling, colorful lot. Ryan Wagner blends poet and madman as John Wilkes Booth, musing over his "legacy" and the reasons for Lincoln's murder. As Charles Guiteau, Nick Rocz skillfully evidences madness and religious obsession while climbing the gallows after killing President Garfield. Also present is Leon Czolgosz (Jonas Barranca), in a creepy turn, who, before blasting President McKinley, shares an intimate moment with anarchist Emma Goldman (Sammi Smith). And there is more than enough humor, not only from Sondheim's dark, saucy lyrics but also from Nicole Monet and Kim Reed as Sara Jane Moore and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme. This is all neatly framed and accented by a circuslike atmosphere, which director Julianne Donelle keeps at a modulated pitch throughout, with outstanding management of her large cast. Aimee Karlin is a standout as the proprietor, as is Travis Dixon as the Balladeer. Coeurage Theatre Company at Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 9. coeurage.org.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: Aug. 3. Continues through Sept. 9, 2012