He’s the dude on the $20 bill, had the nickname “Old Hickory” (which referred to his orneriness, not, as the musical insinuates, his male organ) and helped create what is now known as the Democratic Party.
But who knew Andrew Jackson has got the moves like Jagger and can rock out like a populist Kurt Cobain, smeary black eyeliner and all?
This and other startling quasi-facts unfold in blisteringly entertaining fashion in the rowdy, raunchy musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, oozing both sex appeal and jingoism in a run at Studio Theatre’s Stage 4. It features a young, raw and edgy cast headed by Heath Calvert, who plays Andrew Jackson with the decadent bravura of a rock god—part Dionysus, part democratic demagogue.
Writer Alex Timbers is the Artistic Director of Les Freres Corbusier, a New York-based company known for irreverent mash-ups of topical comedy, cultural references and politics. This sensibility is very much evident in Bloody Andrew Jackson, which features such zesty eccentricities as a traditional love duet where the couple indulges in a skin-cutting and bloodletting ritual usually associated with teenagers while Susan Sontag’s book “Illness as Metaphor” blazes in the background.
The show also draws deft parallels between the political climate past and present and you relish the jabs lobbed at the Tea Party and Obama’s “Believe” campaign, as well as the state of the nation in the early 1800s. We had a banking crisis and a touchy Supreme Court even then?
With composer Michael Friedman, Mr. Timbers crafts a fun, rude, in-your-face show that portrays America in the late 1700s and 1800s as an adolescent nation—which, to some extent, it still is—raging with hormones, pimply angst and growing pains, all set against the persistent whine that life is simply not fair.
Andrew Jackson personifies the zeitgeist of this young country and its constituents so insistently he’s like Holden Caulfield at warp speed. Jackson—and the people he champions with his rallying cry “Let’s take America back!”—has the attention span of a rutabaga, mopes and sulks when he doesn’t get his way and displays the mean streak of a middle-school bully.
He’s maddening. He’s magnetic. Pretty much like many other teenage hunks. Mr. Calvert’s Andrew Jackson is the nervy center of this musical, as his groupies, enemies, the Cabinet and other followers writhe around him like an orgiastic throng.
With the aid of The Storyteller (Felicia Curry, in fine voice, and radiating confidence and Amazonian strength, even after Jackson shoots her character in the neck), we are given a Cliff Notes look at Jackson’s rough-and-tumble life as well as his extremes—was he a populist president who expanded the United States and truly carried out the wishes of the people, or was he an “American Hitler” for his brutal relocation of thousands of Indians (among his legacies is what became the Trail of Tears)?
Through emo (emotional punk rock) songs like the Beatles-esque “Populism Yea, Yea!” and the screaming guitar of “I Am So That Guy” and “Rock Star” we see the various sides of Jackson, all of them larger than life. In the gallows humor variation of the ditty “Ten Little Indians,” the cast hauntingly portrays the systematic genocide of Native Americans while Jackson callously maintains there is an “Indian Problem” and that the solution is “removal” so that “real Americans”–white people–can fulfill their destiny.
Director Keith Alan Baker and co-directors Christopher Gallu and Jennifer Harris do not seem so much to shape the musical, more like contain its anarchic vigor and the energy of the cast. This is the kind of cast that has Synetic alumni Alex Mills and Ryan Sellers (who also portrays Jackson’s cowed friend, the Native American Black Hawk, with gravity and still dominion) whirling and bouncing off the pillars and ramps of Giorgos Tsappas’ spare set like Parkour experts and Rachel Zampelli, playing Jackson’s conflicted wife Rachel with the deranged command of a grand opera heroine about to breathe her last.
Conductor Christopher Youstra has assembled an authentic-sounding garage band, which includes such retro touches as an accordionist (Mr. Youstra) and musicians playing the tuba, fiddle, violin, and ukulele, as well as that hard rock staple, the tambourine.
History lessons are capable of many things, but one could safely wager they rarely stimulate the libido or make you want to make babies with POTUS #7 the way Bloody Andrew Jackson does. Making history come alive—booyah!
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs thru Aug 19, 2012 at Studio Theatre, Stage 4, 1501 14th St. NW Washington, DC
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
By Alex Timbers, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman
Directed by Keith Alan Baker, Christopher Gallu and Jennifer Harris
Produced by Studio Theatre
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Running time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission
Patrick Folliard . Washington Blade
Christine Kowal . BroadwayWorld |
Gary Tischler . Georgetowner
April Forrer .MDTheatreReview
Sharon Eberson .Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ali Goldstein .BrightestYoungThings
Sophie Gilbert .Washingtonian
Genie Baskir .ShowBizRadio
Trey Graham .City Paper
Peter Marks .Washington Post
David Friscic .DCMetroTheaterArts
Patrick Folliard . Washington Blade