Sunday, November 21, 2010

Review of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"

Raw is an apt description for the Broadway musical, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. From the performances to the sets the show has an unrefined, coarse feel as it breezily covers the life of our 7th President. Part history lesson and part rock concert, this boisterous show has resonated with audiences due to Jackson’s life and persona. Here was a man outside the Washington, D.C. mainstream, not part of the D.C. elite of John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. Jackson was a man of the people—a real populist President. The show doesn’t start with the anthem, “Populism, Yea, Yea” for nothing. Can anyone say Tea Party?

The musical treats Andrew Jackson as a rock star, which may sound like a stretch in describing someone from the early-19th century. However, according to Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize winning biographer, John Meacham, “the Jackson movement was to American politics in the 1820’s and 30’s what rock ‘n’ roll was to American culture in the 1950’s and 60’s: young, raw, unsettling.”

Embodying the spirit of the title character is Benjamin Walker, who portrays Jackson as a real rock star. He struts around the stage in tight black jeans exuding charisma and sex appeal. One of his big numbers is simply entitled, “Rock Star.” Walker’s Jackson is a rebel rouser, war-like, and childish. As with the rest of the cast there is a slightly unpolished edge to the performance.

The score by Michael Friedman is loud, raucous yet tuneful with a sprinkling of heartfelt ballads mixed in throughout the show. The actors don’t just sing the songs, but more attack them.

The 90 minute, intermission-less musical, with a book by Alex Timers, who also doubles as director, glosses over Jackson’s life, focusing on his pre-Washington, D.C. days in his native Tennessee, his bloody assault on American Indians, and his years in the White House. At times satirical and mocking, the show sometimes has the feel of a rambunctious college show, rough yet passionate. For such a short length Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson does drag towards the end as he finally attains the Presidency of the United States. The earlier plateau attained by the cast just can’t be maintained at such an exuberant level.

Still, even with its sporadic shortcomings Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson enlivens and entertains, while at the same time affording the opportunity to showcase the talents of a new generation of Broadway artists.

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