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A CurtainUp Review
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Broadway Audiences Cast their Votes for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

(Photo: Joan Marcus)
We're gonna take this country back,
For people like us
— the song declaring the Age of Jackson as the age of populism, "yeah, yeah, yeah."
It was a hit downtown in its initial LAB production and won over a larger audience when it moved to the Public Theater's 299 Newman Theater. Now, buoyed by great reviews and wildly enthusiastic audiences, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson has settled into an even larger Broadway house. Voted in by a landslide, the charismatic Benjamin Walker is back as one of our most interesting presidents (#7) and most of his downtown colleagues are again in the cast, with Kristin Nielson as the Storyteller to add a touch of uptown class.

So here's the skinny on whether this downtown, Generation X geared musical is likely to do uptown: It's a hit, not a Phantom or Lion King hit that's likely to run for years, but a hit likely to have a very respectable Broadway life, shades of musical kin like Urinetown and Spring Awakening.

The tall, dark and handsome Walker has enough oomph to electrify any stage and Michael Friedman's songs resonate even more powerfully on second hearing. His lyrics of the show's populism anthem that has Jackson's enthusiasts sing "Populism, Yeah, Yeah!. . .Take a stand against the elite/They don't care anything for us " resonates more than ever.

That's not to say that the show has relinquished its downtown, cheeky aura and transformed itself into an authentic history lesson. While we learn quite a bit about Jackson's unusual family history and personal quirks (well, don't many politicians have their quirks?), Alex Timbers' book would hardly pass muster with history scholars, but that never was and still isn't this show's intent. It was and is a fun, in-your-face musical that happens to ring bells no matter what the political era during which you're watching it. (Friedman wrote the lyrics and Timbers the book well before the Tea Party was so much in the news!).

The amazingly talented scenic and lighting designers Donyale Werle and Justin Townsend have recreated the wonderfully over-decorated setting from the Public's Newman stage and again lined the theater's walls with presidential portrait pages. To put audiences more into the Fringe-on-Broadway spirit, they've transformed the entire theater into a combination saloon and hunting lodge with its ceiling festooned with lights, chandeliers and even a large stuffed animal straight from a taxidermist's lab. While the sense of stepping into a wild west fun house certainly sets the the tone, the vulgarity and jejune humor do tend to be just a tad less funny in this high priced uptown neighborhood where it must attract not just Generation-Xers but the millenials and their parents and grandparents . Still, if the Sunday matinee I attended is an indication, enough of this broadened demographic were intrigued enough to give these rowdy populists a look and a listen. The house was packed. It looks like like a yeah, yeah for this inventive musical on the Great White Way.

For more details, the original review follows the current production notes. Of just click here.

Broadway Production Notes
Bloody, Bloody Andres Jackson by Alex Timbers
Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman
Directed by Mr. Timbers
Choreography by Danny Mefford
Cast: 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).
Sets by Donyale Werle
Costumes by Emily Rebholz
Lighting by Justin Townsend
Dound 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 Sablon
Bernard Jacobs Theater, 242 West 45th Street, (212) 239-6200;
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
Re-reviewed by Elyse Sommer 10/14/10
Last performance 1/02/11 after 120 performances.
The original review of Bloody Bloody Andew Jacksonat the Public Theater
Les Freres Corbusier is devoted to aggressively visceral theater combining historical revisionism, sophomoric humor and rigorous academic research. . . Les Freres rejects the shy music, seamless dramaturgy and muted performance style of the 20th Century in favor of the anarchic, the rude, the juvenile, the spectacle.—Company mission statement.

Emo = a style of rock music characterized by melodic musicianship and expressive, often confessional lyrics. It originated in the mid-1980s hardcore punk movement and was pioneered by bands such as Rites of Spring and Embrace.
President Andrew Jackson's power seizing, land grabbing ways didn't quite live up to his campaign promises of a people's democracy (what such promises ever do?), but Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson sure lives up to its above quoted mission statement. It's aggressively visceral bent is evident the minute you step inside the theater. Bloody red lights overhead. Period politico portraits hung helter skelter along the orchestra's wall as if to announce that you'll be looking at quite a different, historically revised portrait of Old Hickory. Maybe as a rock star? No maybe about it, Benjamin Walker's Jackson is very much a sexy rock star.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a far cry from your traditional historian's idea of an authentic biographical narrative, but director/writer Alex Timbers and the show's Emo music composer and lyricists Michael Friedman have certainly brushed up on the much documented story of the controversial seventh president. Their story telling and performance style is indeed rude, crude and juvenile, with some of the decided non-muted scenes straight out of a Saturday Night Live skit. But this is also a genuinely funny and original musical. The rock star conceit not only fits the company's penchant for the jejune but works because, as Jenny Sandman noted when she reviewed last year's LAB showcase (see links at end of review), "Jackson was, after all, the country's first experiment with electing a president based on his charisma and personality, rather than on his ability to lead." The show also seems to take on a satiric kinship to whatever president is in office when you're watching it.

The targeted audience may be Generation X but the 2009 LAB version has been finessed and restaged for the Public's largest theater to extend and expand this core audience. With 299 seats the Newman is still smaller than the smallest Broadway house, but it's 3x the size of the 99-seat Shiva where Bloody Bloody. . . originally played to sold out audiences. Judging from the audience at the performance I attended, the twenty-somethings for whom Les Freres Corbusier continues to make live theater appealing still predominated. However, I don't think it will take long for this show to win over lots of more mature theater goers tired of juke box musicals or revivals and open to something that dares to stray from the tried and true, into fresher— and yes, politically incorrect— territory. That larger audience will be made up of the adults for whom childlike is not a bad thing — shades of Picasso's declaration that "it took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."

While the $10 super bargain tickets have jumped up with the move to the larger space and longer run, $60 is still half of what you'd pay at a Broadway house. Fortunately, all but four of the original cast members are again on hand for this free-wheeling factionalizations of the famously flawed but charismatic Jackson.

There's plenty of detail about Jackson's personal and political life. But obviously this is not a history lesson but a musical that happens to be about a historic figure. The excellent musicians are prominently positioned at either side of the stage and Friedman's songs are tightly integrated into Timbers' script. Probably that's why the songs, though catchy and tuneful and with cheeky lyrics, resonate mostly within the show rather than as breakout numbers. The absence of a separate song list further emphasizes the inseparability of text and music. (Think Spring Awakening if you're looking for a musical that made it big-time to compare it with).

Donyale Werle has divided the wide playing area to accommodate the various real and surreal domestic scenes, each of which Justin Townsend's lighting casts in its own blood-hued aura. The revisionist story begins with a visit to Jackson's childhood home in the Tennessee hills and the killing of his family that jumpstarted his antipathy for Indians. We also see him swap blood with Rachel (a tempestuous Maria Elena Ramirez), the woman he loved and married while she was still bound to another man. Though cutting was a medicinal practice not uncommon in those days, it here illustrates the intensity of this pair's bond and suits the anything goes feeling that permeates this show. When Jackson hits the campaign trail, Timbers manages to bring in a bunch of female supporters who sing out "We want to fuck you and debate the tariff."

The controversial dealings with Native Americans has left historians seesawing between labeling Jackson as a great military leader and unifier (he doubled the size of the country and permanently ousted the British from American soil) or an American Hitler (he conquered and killed thousands of Indians). For Alex Timbers it inspires a four-part musical parody of Ten Little Indians that starts out with a light, comical feel but becomes darker and more uncomfortable with each reprise.

As the first president to champion the common man, as well as the first not from the political elite, this rock star populist also takes on the Washington fat cats. All are riotously caricatured by the ensemble: James Monroe (Ben Steinfeld), Henry Clay (Michael Crane), Martin Van Buren (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), John Quincy Adams (Jeff Hiller) and John Calhoun (Michael Dunn). There's even a pink sock to add a hint of homosexuality among the old guard.

This crazy quilt of songs, dancing and skits calls for a narrator to introduce and clarify the madcap doings. Company regular Colleen Werthmann zestfully takes on this task, wheeling herself on and off stage in an electric wheel chair backed with angel wings — at least she does so until Jackson decides to tell his own story and shoots her. Emily Rebholz has seen to it that her outfit as well as everyone else's adds to the bloody good fun.

Les Freres Corbusier is known for its irreverently clever productions, including an adaptation of Hedda Gabler with robots. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson carries on the spirit established in previous shows we've reviewed. If you've missed seeing them, don't let this, their biggest and most polished production, slip by you. To paraphrase the opening song: "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, yea, yea!"

Bloody Bloody. . .Public LAB 2009
Bloody Bloody. . .Los Angeles 2008
Boozy: The Life, Death, and Subsequent Vilification of Le Corbusier and, more importantly, Robert Moses2005
2006 A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant 2006

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Written and directed by Alex Timbers
Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman
Cast: River Aguirre (Lyncoya), James Barry (Male Soloist), Michael Crane (Clay/Blackhawk), Michael Dunn (Calhoun), Greg Hildreth (Red Eagle), Jeff Hiller (John Quincy Adams), Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Martin Van Buren), Bryce Pinkham (Henry Clay), Maria Elena Ramirez (Rachel), Kate Cullen Roberts (Elizabeth), Ben Steinfield (Monroe), Benjamin Walker (Andrew Jackson), Colleen Werthmann (The Storyteller), Emily Young (Female Soloist)
Set Design: Donyale Werle
Lighting Design: Justin Townsend
Sound Design: Bart Fassbender
Costume Design: Emily Rebholz
Musicians: Justin Levine (music director, piano and guitar), Kevin Garcia (drums) Charlie Rosen (drums)
Choreographer: Danny Mefford
Fight Director: Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum
Stage Manager: Elizabeth Moreau Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
The Public Theatre; 425 Lafayette Street, 212-967-7555
From 3/23/10; opening 4/06/10; closing 4/2310-- extended to 6/29/10
Tickets: $60
Tuesday at 7 pm; Wednesday through Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm; and Sunday at 2 pm and 7 pm
May 5 — 24
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on April 2nd press preview
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