Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Bloody Awful

By: - Dec 20, 2010

Jackson Jackson Jackson Jackson

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
By Alex Timbers
Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman
Directed by Mr. Timbers
Choreography by Danny Mefford; sets by Donyale Werle; costumes by Emily Rebholz; lighting by Justin Townsend; sound by Bart Fasbender; musical director, Justin Levine; music coordinator, Seymour Red Press; fight director, Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum; production stage manager, Arthur Gaffin; dramaturgs, Anne Davison and Mike Sablone; associate producers, Mandy Hackett, Jeremy Scott Blaustein, Michael Crea, S D Wagner and John Johnson. Presented by the Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, artistic director; Andrew D. Hamingson, executive director, and Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Norton Herrick and Herrick Entertainment, Stewart Lane and Bonnie Comley, Susan Quint Gallin/Mary Lu Rofe/Jennifer Manocherian, Stewart Lane and Bonnie Comley, Universal Stage Productions, Nancy C. Paduano/Harold Thau, Toula C. Philips, Joey Parnes and Center Theater Group. At the Bernard Jacobs Theater, 242 West 45th Street, Manhattan; (212) 239-6200; Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

WITH: Benjamin Walker (Andrew Jackson), James Barry (Male Soloist/Citizen/Phil), Darren Goldstein (Andrew Sr./Calhoun), Greg Hildreth (Red Eagle/University President), Jeff Hiller (Cobbler/Messenger/John Quincy Adams/Tour Guide/Florida Man), Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Keokuk/Van Buren), Cameron Ocasio (Lyncoya), Bryce Pinkham (Black Fox/Clay), Nadia Quinn (Toula/Female Ensemble), Maria-Elena Ramirez (Rachel/Florida Woman), Kate Cullen Roberts (Elizabeth/Erica), Ben Steinfeld (Monroe), Emily Young (Female Soloist/Announcer/Naomi), Kristine Neilsen (the Storyteller) and Justin Levine, Charlie Rosen and Kevin Garcia (Musicians).

Andrew Jackson (March 15, 1767 – June 8, 1845) was the seventh President of the United States (1829–1837). He was the military governor of pre-admission Florida (1821) and the commander of the American forces at the Battle of New Orleans (1815) and is an eponym of the era of Jacksonian democracy. A polarizing figure who dominated the Second Party System in the 1820s and 1830s, his political ambition and widening political participation shaped the modern Democratic Party.

Those are the essential facts.

One of the indelible rules of journalism, however, is never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

That seems to be the mantra of the mess of a musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” by Alex Timbers with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. Last year the Public Theatre production was a hit Off Broadway. It opened on Broadway, in October, to mostly rave reviews but will close in early January.

Based on the reviews a colleague recommended that I see this show. It is an example of a new kind of musical theatre. Yes, I’ll give it that. And there is something to be said for keeping up with the cutting edge. Indeed youth must be served. But what is compelling about sanguine swagger in the tall, handsome, and charismatic leading man, Benjamin Walker, is undermined by travesty, slander, and the racist caricature of Native Americans whom Old Hickory slaughtered  by the thousands. All of this is set to loud and atonal rock music with pistol packing Walker strutting about like an ersatz Tom Jones. You half expected ladies in the front row to be tossing up their knickers for him to mop a sweaty brow.

There were clues of a rough evening in the twenty minutes before the play began. Hovering over the audience was a spider’s web of Christmas lights. Around the walls were hung knock off portraits of Jackson and other politicians of the era. The set on stage by Donyale Werle was a disheveled mess. As we sat absorbing all this there was blaring rock music that induced a tension headache.

Eventually several musicians came on stage. One would assume the piped in music would stop. But for several minutes the drums and guitars randomly added to the cacophony.

Then we settled, more or less, into the sordid saga of the great populist.

Perhaps the relevance of the life and times of Andrew Jackson is its uncanny confluence with the yahoo, Mama Moose screed of Sarah Palin and her know nothing Tea Party nut cakes. Good old genocidal Andy standing up for all the red blooded soccer moms of America was a hero of sorts. He sure brought down the bobble headed, elitist Eastern Establishment.

In this over the top production the political enemies of Jackson are portrayed as effete fops with frilly lace collars. The buffoons include John Quincy Adams, who stole the election of 1824, and his cohorts Henry Clay and Martin van Buren.

These corrupt dandies are contrasted with a standup guy like Bloody Jackson. So named for some 13 duels including one in which he was wounded but returned fire to kill a man. It was one of several fought for insulting Jackson’s bigamy with his “wife” Rachel. In addition to killing as many as 46,000 Indians through war and the removal west in the Trail of Tears, Jackson owned some 300 slaves during his lifetime.

During the Seminole War he basically chased them from Georgia into the Everglades therby stealing Florida from Spanish rule. Having slaughtered much of the tribe he sent an orphan back home to be raised as a son.

In this play Lyncoya is depicted as Seminole. In reality he was a Creek Indian orphan adopted by Jackson after the Creek War. Lyncoya died of tuberculosis in 1828, at the age of sixteen.

As a device to separate fact and fiction there is the character of the Story Teller (Kristine Neilsen). She is absurdly represented as a matronly Wellesley grad, lesbian, and wheel chair bound historian. One could not imagine a less compelling role. She just loves Andy to pieces and tries to insert some factual content into the blaring mayhem.

At one point Andy just pulls out his pistol and shoots her in the neck. But she crawls back on stage at a later point for another aborted attempt at commentary.

Other than the megalomaniacal Walker there really are no other characters.

Everyone else on stage is just a pastiche of caricature. The parody of Native Americans was less than amusing. This was blatant racism tricked out as humor. No, sorry, I don’t find genocide all that amusing. There is none of the wit of “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producers. Now that was funny. This was just archly insulting.

Toward the end of an unbearably tedious evening there was a line that seemed to capture the spirit of an ambitious but obnoxious project. “Was Andrew Jackson the greatest President of the 19th Century or an American Hitler?” Exactly.

Perhaps for their next project Timbers and Friedman will create a musical on the Life and Times of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. It is sure to be a hit.

Bang bang. Gotcha.

Another Opinion, Oh well

In the New York Times year end, top ten list, Ben Brantley ranks

3. BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON Another rara avis: an utterly original musical, also courtesy of the Public Theater (which produced “Gatz” too, so thank you, Public Theater). Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s emo-rock musical about American populism and a maverick who would be president (played by the new-born-star Benjamin Walker) found in Jackson’s U.S.A. a funny, scary mirror for this rowdy, sulky and undyingly adolescent nation as it is today.