BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSONMusic and lyrics by Michael Friedman
Book by Alex Timbers
Directed by Bruce R. Coleman
Musical Director - Pam Holcomb-Mclain
Assistant Musical Director - Terry Dobson
Set Design - David Walsh
Lighting Design - Paul Arnold
Costume Design - Bruce R. Coleman
Dramaturg - Kimberly Richard
AEA Stage Manager - Terry Vandivort
CAST - in alphabetical order
Peter Bowden - James Monroe, Ensemble
John Campione - Ensemble
Nikki Cloer - Ensemble
Cameron Cobb - Andrew Jackson
Aubrey Ferguson - Elizabeth Jackson, Ensemble
Sergio Antonio Garcia - Black Fox, Ensemble
Cory Kosel - Ensemble
Dorcas Lueng - Ensemble
Gregory Lush - Henry Clay, Ensemble
Michael McCray - Martin Van Buren, Ensemble
Arianna Movassagh - Rachel Jackson, Ensemble
Aaron Roberts - John Calhoun, Ensemble
Austin Struckmeyer - The Bandleader
Max Swarner - John Quincy Adams, Ensemble
Angel Velasco - Lyncoya, Ensemble
Wendy Welch - The Storyteller, Ensemble
Michael Dill - Wind Synthesizer
Pam Holcomb-Mclain - Piano
Randy Linberg - Drums
David Odegaard - Bass
Reviewed Performance: 6/11/2012
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Through historical vignettes, ballads and full-out rock songs, we see a young boy from the Tennessee hills of the late 18th century whose family has been wiped out by cholera and in Indian attacks. These tragedies develop Jackson into a disgusted young man who sees the British, Spanish, French and our own Indian tribes fighting for American frontiersmen's land.
In the song, "I'm Not That Guy", Jackson begins to express his disdain for the U.S. government's lack of involvement with the people (does any of this start to sound familiar?) and so joins the military and begins the systematic dissipation and destruction of the Indian Tribes throughout the Southeast ("Ten Little Indian"). Spurred on by triumphant battle wins and a desire to bring political power "back to the public and away from the elite" (I feel a deja vu coming on!), Jackson becomes governor of Florida and then runs for presidency in 1824.
Though he wins the popular votes, political maneuvering loses him the election ("The Corrupt Bargain") - can we say "Florida chits"? Four years later and remaining focused on politics, without his wife Rachel's blessing ("The Great Compromise") Jackson forms the Democratic Party, throws his hat into the ring and finally becomes the 7th President of the United States. Rachel dies just before his inauguration.
Throughout his term Andrew Jackson was plagued with questions and problems, including Indian relocation and the National Bank (this is getting more familiar all the time!). Jackson was the first President to use Executive Power to make him more powerful than Congress and the Courts. But while his earlier wild cowboy-like tactics won over the frontier citizens, as the problems grew larger, the public begins to resent being forced to make tough decisions ("Crisis Averted") and turns on him (if this isn't a case of history repeating itself, I don't know what is). Finally, Jackson decides he alone will take responsibility for his decisions, making a deal with Black Fox, the organizer of the remaining Indian tribes, to move them west of the Mississippi River. However, before receiving an answer, Jackson commanded federal troops forcibly move the tribes off of what was called "American Territories".
This final act becomes his legacy, and towards the end of his life, as he reflects on his triumphs and defeats, his responsibility and culpability, the bandleader sings about the ease of taking what you believe is your right in "Second Nature". As people from his past - Rachel, politicians, the Indian people - gather around him, they strike up a rousing, and slightly sickening song, "The Hunters of Kentucky", to remind us that as humans, we really haven't progressed as much as we'd like to imagine.
I wrote that entire abbreviated historical/musical synopsis to reiterate what Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is all about. To evolve and change the wrongs of today, we must first know and then understand the wrongs of the past. And why write and perform this bit of our history in the musical style of The Who?
For entertainment purposes, naturally, but also to connect to the disengaged people of our country who feel disassociated with our current policies and dilemmas. The New York-based experimental theatre company, Les Freres Corbusier, developed the musical back in August 2006.
This company who's Artistic Director, Alex Timbers, wrote the book for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, is "devoted to creating irreverent work that re-envisions well-know historical figures in new idioms and contexts, which allows for fresh reappraisal and contemporary relevancies". Using "sophomoric humor" and rigorous academic research, they are committed to a Populist Theater that uses "pop culture tastes and comedic sensibilities to speak directly to a mainstream audience".
While I'm not sure about that "mainstream audience" part, I am sure those attending the opening night at Theatre Three will not soon forget the spectacle, the energy and the immense talent that they felt and saw onstage. I don't believe many people were humming the tunes of this musical as they walked out the doors - it simply was not that kind of musical. The music and lyrics, written by Michael Friedman, were more commentary on particular moments in the story then of the story itself. As our rock hero sang, riffed, danced, jumped on platforms and desks while musing on his life's highs and lows, the ghosts of his past assisted in forming a compelling tale of this man who exuberantly fought for what he thought was right, no matter the cost.
Making darn certain the audience knew the musical's location and time period, David Walsh designed one of the two most magnificent sets I have seen in the Theatre Three space. With the Presidential seal center stage and a huge fabric ceiling medallion above, the Oval Office was well-identified. On the two sides were carved eagle balconies, political banners, draped flags, dark wood panels, rugs and every little knick-knack bust, candelabra or piece of Americana that could be put into all the small levels around the theatre seating. On the south wall were somber portraits of the important men of the era - John Quincy Adams, James Monroe, Van Buren, John Calhoun and others. These portraits loomed behind the audience just as they loomed over and haunted Jackson's political years.
My apologies for not taking a better look where the band sat but I could see the gentleman playing wind synthesizer, a bit of the pianist draped behind red velvet and, of course, the bandleader and members of the cast down front on guitar. Each band member was seated a good distance apart but their sound was anything but distant. Grinding rock `n roll, bordering on heavy metal, was the order of the day and with Pam Holcomb-Mclain as Musical Director, they provided the much needed energy Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson required to get its message across.
Speaking of "bloody", this musical is not for the faint of phraseology and truly needs an advertised rating code for potential goers. Foul language is an understatement. Verbally using just about every profane curse word or expletive known to man, short of the truly rude or offensive, this musical became a startling bombardment of words, and the title a double entendre. Yet the words were nothing anyone who watches cable TV, listens to certain rap songs or is in any way a part of our culture has not heard. After the first shock, they became part of the dialogue and lost their initial value. Not trying to put some meaning where it might not be, maybe that was the purpose, to show that words are just that - words - and can dilute those moments where action is required.
Through all the language and seriousness of the underlying story, this musical was hysterically funny. Actors whipped arrows under their arms as if shot during a raid, or Jackson ranted and raved and hid behind his desk as the White House tour guide led fans through the West Wing. Everyone's favorite though was The Storyteller who narrated historical facts through the first half of the show while scooting around in her electric wheelchair, festooned with red, white and blue decoration.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson's costume design was a mish-mash of early 19th century plain, functional attire and rock star glam. Through the eyes of Bruce R. Coleman, visualize buckskin and black eyeliner, cutaway coats and studded cuffs, gingham dresses and gelled-up punk hair. Even while the ensemble played various characters, the makeup remained, forever melding Andrew Jackson with Alice Cooper!
Paul Arnold's lighting design was, for the most part, full up and encompassing, with some transitional movement spots and fun revolving spots that washed over the audience like we were in a huge auditorium. The only thing missing were those dreaded back wall lights that, at some point in a rock concert, completely blind you.
In his curtain speech, Stage Manager Terry Vandivort stated that this was the most talented, hard-working group of actors and musicians he had ever been associated with, and whether the audience liked or disliked this musical, on that statement alone no one could possibly disagree. A tight-knit ensemble that continuously interchanged between acting a specific role and then became a part of the ensemble or part of the band, the action was fast and furious, loud and raucous, then just as quickly subdued and engaging. There were so many quick changes of costume pieces, makeup additions, and rapid behind the stage crosses that it was at times overwhelming to keep up with the pace. And you wanted to keep up as it was such a powerful story of the rise and fall of greatness and also, unfortunately, a story our country is partially reliving today.
Sixteen actors/singers made up the ensemble and each was an integral part in presenting this musical effectively. And I hate to use that phrase when I'm only going to mention a few of them. Wendy Welch's storyteller was irritatingly glorious with her facts and comedy-timing perfect with her snide remarks after being "silenced" - no spoiler here.
Those ornery, no good political guys, James Monroe, Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren, John Calhoun and John Q. Adams, played by Peter Bowden, Gregory Lush, Michael McCray, Aaron Roberts and Max Swarner, were such Dickensian-like villains, swarming around Jackson and messing with his rock star persona. Sergio Antonio Garcia portrayed Black Fox with stoicism and pride and not an ounce of stereotype, not that Coleman would have let him. His scenes with Jackson were some of the most poignant and balancing of the whole musical.
Rachel Jackson must have been a very sad woman because when Arianna Movassagh portrayed her, Rachel seemed as if she was in a world of her own. Whether singing of not wanting a public life with her husband or telling him goodbye, Movassagh kept this character very controlled, focused and inward. In a musical as frenetic and wild as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, she was a stand out.
Never offstage or not moving for more than a minute, Andrew Jackson was no less a megawatt role than our biggest performers on a concert world tour. The energy, charisma and stamina required to pull off this "dual characterization" was staggering. Yet Cameron Cobb not only was able to portray this grandiose figure full-out, you knew that he had the chops to do it exactly the same way, performance after performance. Even garbed in the skinniest of black jeans, torn T, punked up hair, studded accoutrements and a gun holster, you could clearly identify both President and the entertainer. Pompously strutting around the stage in true rocker fashion, Cobb demanded attention, grabbing the audience with a brief stare or an aside. He was clearly a good musician and singer, playing and juggling his guitar around. His robust vocal quality allowed him to belt out solo numbers and reach every audience member or rock it with the other musicians. Then Cobb reeled in all that intensity to sing one of Jackson's most revealing songs, "The Saddest Song" with a quiet control that held the audience captive. Cobb was a chameleon in this role, at once likeable, friendly and fun then suddenly just as mistrusting, confusing and hated. Alex Timbers wrote a tour de force role and Cobb took it all in stride.
Will everyone like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson? I would say no. This is not a "feel good" musical, the kind where you sit back and let the silly story and cute songs wash over you. This is more a thinking-man's musical. A bit complex, somewhat controversial, definitely not PC, Theatre Three's production is "the smartest, sharpest new musical in years!" and "bloody entertaining". Or to quote Jackson with one of his opening lines:
"I'm wearing some tight, tight jeans and tonight we're delving into some serious, serious s*it. I'm Andrew Jackson. I'm your President. Let's go".
Let's go indeed.
The Quadrangle, 2400 Routh Street, Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through July 7th
Thursday & Sunday at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday at 8pm,
Sunday at 2:30 pm.
****FINAL week has added performances on Wednesday, July 4th at 2:00 pm, and Saturday, July 7th at 2:30 pm.
Tixs are $10.00 - $50.00 and can be purchased by calling their box office at 214-871-3300, option #1 or by going to www.theatre3dallas.com