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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Or: “Warming: Contains Vulgarity, Blank-firing Guns, Muzzle-Sweeps, Haze, Strobe Lighting, Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, Hemophilia, Flying Chairs, Dirty Jokes, Dirty Language, Deliberate Values Dissonance, Deafening Music, Fourth Wall Destruction, Barbed Satirical Wit, as well as plenty of Sachs and Violence”

I personally have never had much patience for rock concerts. The closeness, the rawness and the inability to really hear any thing spoken or sung causes me to view the medium with the greatest of contempt and loathing. That being said, despite the closeness the rawness and the difficulty hearing what is sung or said, Bloody Bloody is the most enjoyable rock concert I could have dreamed up. It exhibits some excellent musicianship, fine command of expression, both hysterical and tragic, and explores in depth (though at speed) an often glossed over chapter of history.

Put simply, the show is an summery of Andrew Jackson: lover, soldier, populist, Seventh President of the United States, and Tyrant. We track Jackson’s (McGrath) rise from a frontier lad who looses his family to “cholera”, forms a passionate dislike for native americans, fights the british, forms a passionate dislike for the American Aristocracy, falls in love with Rachel (Winters) a married woman with troubles, forms an unlikely allegiance with the American People, and rides their vote, after many hardships, into the White House and eternal ignominy. All this is played out on a concert stage, with dancing in the aisles (the current style is called “tweaking”, yes?), video projections, and historical gags galore, all supervised by the Bandleader (Schneidman) and a darling, but overzealous Storyteller (Pickus). Tailored by David Griffin and Matthew Filak, it looks and feels, designed specifically for your connivence to enjoy an evening of heart pumping music, writhing bodies, and a story everybody knows. But this is not just an examination of Jackson or a bacchanalian show for you to loose yourself in. It is also a jabbing examination of our own national character, and how we got to be this way.

The book, while sunk in vice, is a nice blend of anarchistic satire, burlesque comedy, and some nice deep character wrestling. The music is catchy when it is understood (which alas, is only 50% of the time, the final number is almost incomprehensible). Day, the Director, has made good use the wild energy, and peculiar mincing scene action, and brings an exotic sense of danger in on a leash, but does best when he hands the reigns over to his talented ensemble.

Playing more than sixty separate characters, from the first democrats, to various Indian leaders, to corrupt politicians, the cast unflaggingly brings variety of expression to their charges and a commitment to make the boldest, bloodiest choices. The also, to a note, sing REALY well. While it is unhelpful to choose favorites I cannot help but note that Winters in particular possess not only a fine voice, but much welcome ability to land every word in our understanding, even while engaging in some....peculiar activities.

Not that she’s a rose amongst brambles. The inexhaustible McGrath can turn on a dime, a charismatic commanding beer-hall politician one moment a quivering wreck of nerves the next to a manic man desperate for love and recognition. He throws himself into the songs with wild abandon, “The Saddest Song” is his finest moment, spinning from one end to the other of his range and expression. However, despite Jackson’s command over his roil of reactions, he is often upstaged (who couldn’t be upstaged) by the machinations of the comedic adepts Febland and Egleston. The former could have been designed by Providence to steal shows: she just needs to look sideways to cause explosions of laughter. The latter, often in the guise of the Baffoonish Martin Van Buren reels out outrageous overreaction or cool deadpan like an expert angler, leaving us wriggling in hysteria in our seats. The corrupt team of Clahoun (Sachs) Monroe (Shapiro) and the younger Adams (Pager) gleefully, almost loveably make themselves as villainous as possible.

One particularly fine performance, of a more subtle nature, belongs to Barker and his portrayal of Black Fox. A Cherokee Chief and noted collaborator with the US Government during the first half of the 19th century, Black Fox is shown to be the one Indian that the virulently racist Jackson respects, and helps the “Great Father” subjugate other peoples in return for protection of the Cherokee’s. However, as his friend goes in power we can see Black Fox, like a slowly eroding stone in the play’s constant cataract of events, slowly beginning to loose trust in Jackson’s promises. Needless to say, it does not end well for either.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is not my cup of tea. It’s loud and it’s crude and its hard to decipher and the entire time I felt myself to be in very immediate physical danger. But that does not mean that I didn’t laugh uproariously, or bop my head to the rockin’ stains of “Populism Yea Yea”, or remark to myself “D*mn, (Cast Member), you really are playing (Him/Her/It) to the hilt. Well Done”. And its closeness and rawness and inaudiblity did not stop me from opening my heart to these poor souls who are crafted their own tragic ends in that troubled time. Jacksons fate, despicable as he is, even gave me chills. To those of you who are more accustomed to the roll of rock concerts, the history Populism, the particulars of voice work, and the gifts good acting hands out, I can only recommend the show heartily, and wish you steadier nerves than I.

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