INTERVIEW: Broadway's TONY LEPAGE and JOSH SASSANELLA On Their New Musical "Oswald"

The new musical Oswald written by Broadway's very own  Tony LePage and Josh Sassanella had a special performance on Mon, Aug. 19th at The Green Room 42. Based on the infamous Lee Harvey Oswald, Oswald tells the story we all thought we knew through the eyes of Marina, Lee Harvey Oswald's wife. 

President Kennedy’s motorcade heads down the streets of Dallas, Texas when a shot rings out, leading to the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald. Two days later, Oswald was shot and killed on his way to a more secure prison. Conspiracy theories followed Oswald’s death, leading people to wonder: who really was Oswald? Told through the eyes of his widowed wife, Marina, Oswald explores two possible versions of the accused assassin’s journey simultaneously: a troubled youth caught up in an impossible situation, and a cold-blooded killer driven mad by his unrelenting need to be remembered. 

Tony and Josh talked exclusively with RyeTheNewsGuy.com ahead of the concert about the concept of Oswald, how the musical came about, and who was the REAL Lee Harvey Oswald?

Can you tell me a more about the new musical Oswald? What made you want to write this and take use perspective of his wife Marina?

Tony LePage: Told through the eyes of his now elderly widowed wife, OSWALD tells two possible versions of JFK's accused assassin’s journey simultaneously. On one side of our story we follow a troubled youth, innocent of the crime, caught up in an impossible situation, which ultimately leads to the conspiracy theories many believe to this day. On the other, we watch a cold-blooded killer, driven mad by his unrelenting need to be remembered.  Faced with a lifetime of unanswered questions, and a box full of buried memories, the past is divided, and the truths of this unwilling survivor’s past tests what it means to live with the name “OSWALD”.

There were many trial and error versions of the show, (as there always are) but we really found our voice through Marina. She is the only person who was there for it all and while, in the end, she never found out the truth, it is through her survival of this horrible ordeal that we find a sympathetic lens through which to look at it all.

Without giving too much away does the story from the point of view of Lee Harvey’s wife have a different telling of events from what we know?

Tony LePage: The show is essentially a dramatic retelling of two possible versions of Marina’s life, as we have come to know it. Be it through the media, articles, video, interviews, etc… But also our own interpretation of the way that Marina, his family and those close to him were affected by his actions. It occurs to me, that it must be so frustrating for her to be unable to trust her own memories.

To try and recall a life she thought she had lived. Telling this story from her point of view helped to remind us that when tragedy strikes, we so often forget about the people who are disregarded, the people who carry these things with them long after we all let go and move on to another.  In OSWALD our narrator, Marina Oswald Porter, does what she’s done year after year since the truth died with her husband.  She holds on and leaves parts of herself behind, but then chooses to go back and see that sometimes learning from the past and making a necessary change, is all you can do. 

Where did you come up with the Inspiration for this show?

Tony LePage:The short version is that Josh and I were in the dressing room, backstage at Rock of Ages, on Broadway as actors. He was writing a show and I was writing a show. He looked at me and said, "hey, you write musicals and I write musicals... we should write a musical. I said, "well, What do you like to write." He said "I like historical stuff." Then, an idea I had about 8 years earlier popped into my head... I said, “I had this idea that when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot, the truth died with him. Half the world thought he was innocent and the other half thought he was guilty, so it’s kind of like he’s two people. What if we had two people play Lee Harvey Oswald simultaneously” … Josh came in the next day with the first song written and the rest is history.

Tony LePage and Josh Sassanella at The Green Room 42 (Matt Stocke)

In your opinion— who was the real Lee Harvey Oswald and what did you learn about him from writing this?

Tony LePage:That is the million dollar question there. I truly don’t know and I don’t think we ever will. Lee Harvey Oswald is a true enigma and one of the most polarizing figures in American history. We learned a lot about his past, his upbringing, etc… But mostly, (because we don’t know the truth), he has become defined by either, what he did or what happened to him. His life has become this sort of catalogue of events, shrouded in mystery. The “Lone Gunman” or “The Patsy”. It made me think a lot about the duality that exists in all of us, that we all have darkness and light. But I think what truly defines us, is which side we choose to act from. Which “wolf” we choose to feed. 

What can we expect to hear at the Green Room 42 concert on Monday Aug 19th?

Tony LePage: At the concert, we are going to have a variety of amazingly talented people sing some abridged versions of the bigger musical moments in the show, with the writers, setting up each song, just to give some context. We could not be more grateful to have this incredible lineup of Broadway stars performing this music for us.

What is next for the show?

Tony LePage: We are currently working with our producers, and General Management team to raise funds for either a lab in NYC or an enhancement performance at a regional venue. The momentum is really building and it has been so exciting to watch it all come to this point.

Where can we learn more?

Tony LePage: We have our media kit and song demos at our website: oswaldthemusical.com

What do you want people to take away from this show?

Tony LePage: I would love for people to leave the theatre having been on a 100 minute thrill ride, an emotional roller coaster and a journey into an incredibly important piece of American history. But most importantly that our show is not about men who died, but about a woman who lived. Who survived. A woman, in spite of everything that happened, paid her debt, raised her family and tried with everything she had to move on with her life. A life that was stolen from her and replaced with his.

Sean Doherty and Justin Mortelliti at The Green Room 42(Matt Stocke)

Josh Sassanella:

Can you tell me a more about the new musical Oswald? What made you want to write this and take use perspective of his wife Marina?

Josh Sassanella:As Tony said - Oswald is two possible versions of Lee Harvey Oswald’s story told simultaneously through the eyes of his now widowed ex-wife Marina Oswald-Porter. To answer your specific question about Marina-The truth is - this show has grown and changed as we have gotten to know our characters better. In trying to find the voice of our show, I personally kept coming back to something that I’m sure you now notice. Marina “Oswald” –Porter, is the name she carries to this day. 

Knowing that sparked the obvious question that kept coming back to us over and over again, ”Why would she keep the name?”.  In trying to understand this, we found a woman who to this day lives out of the spotlight in Rockwall, Texas: a woman who is obviously still holding on to parts of her past.  In that discovery we couldn’t help but see a disregarded woman who survived it all and still struggles to learn from her part in one of the most heinous crimes in modern history.  And in a world where tragedy abounds, we’re all survivors in one way or another. Do we learn from tragedy and change? Or carry it with us and let it destroy our lives? Those are ultimately the questions we pose. Marina’s answers became her story, and thusly, her story became ours.

Without giving too much away does the story from the point of view of Lee Harvey’s wife have a different telling of events from what we know?

Josh Sassanella: Marina’s point of view gives us free reign to tell the story in the conceptual way that we do. Her mind is not only filled with memories, but also years of conspiracy theories. It is constantly filtering things she wishes she could remember, and pushing away things she wishes she couldn’t. Having both men there, only gives us a canvas to tell a complicated story, or two rather, in a way that we now know lends itself to the stage very well.  Add a lot of rock music, a little jazz and folk, and maybe heartbreaking ballad or two, and what you end up with, in my opinion, is a pretty exciting and thought-provoking piece of theatre.

Where did you come up with the Inspiration for this show?

Josh Sassanella: Tony’s answer on this one says it all!

In your opinion— who was the real Lee Harvey Oswald and what did you learn about him from writing this?

Josh Sassanella: I wish I could tell you who the real Lee Harvey Oswald is. But like Marina, I’ve seen too much to ever know. Could the answer be in the still classified documents that the president didn't release last year? Maybe. But I’m not sure if I’d believe what they said at this point, either way. But for what it’s worth, I started the project thinking there was no way he could have done it on his own. Then I began to think he got lucky and was the lone assassin. Now, like I said, who knows?

 Amy Spanger at The Green Room 42 (Matt Stocke)

What can we expect to hear at the Green Room 42 concert on Monday Aug 19th?

Josh Sassanella: The concert is going to be our star-studded lineup singing a lot of Rock, some folk/singer songwriter tunes (with an edge of country, after all most of the show is set in Dallas,TX) and a little jazz. Our five piece band is killer, and it should be a pretty fun. People ask what the music is like and I say, if the Beatles and The Civil Wars had a baby, that’s what Oswald would sound like.

Where can we learn more?

Josh Sassanella: Tony nailed this one too!!

What is next for the show?

Josh Sassanella: Musicals take work. 5 years in, I think we’re getting close. I’m a process guy. That is where my joy comes from.  However, while we’ve done a good job at keeping our cards close to our chest thus far, there will always be a time for people to see what we’ve been up to. Monday night is it! After that we’re going to see where the momentum takes us. I’m pretty open, just as long as we keep developing our story into something that matters to the people who see it.

What do you want people to take away from this show?

Josh Sassanella: If you mean in terms of the concert, I think Tony and I wanted to write a show that we would be excited to perform in every night, something that wasn’t too derivative and something that’s exciting, thought-provoking and edgy. I think we’ve done that and while the music captures some very exciting moments of the show, what I really want people to walk away with is an eagerness to hear the story next.  A million musicals have great songs, but the hits, the musicals that are timeless and live on in the American Musical Theatre zeitgeist, stand firmly on a great book.  

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