“Why don’t you just shoot me in the head
’cause you know I’d be better off dead
if there’s really no place in America
for a celebrity of the first rank.”
So sings the title character in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
With music & lyrics by Michael Friedman, and a book by Alex Timbers; this show has been described as; “a comedic Wild West rock musical about the founding of the Democratic Party. It redefines Andrew Jackson, America’s seventh President, as an Emo rock star and focuses on populism, the Indian Removal Act, and his relationship with his wife Rachel”. After seeing the local Phoenix Theatre production of the show which opened last night I’d say; ‘Yep, that about sums it up’. I knew of this show from hearing bits of it on Sirius but had never seen it nor heard a cast recording.
The show has had an interesting history. It began as a workshop production at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2006. It premiered in California in 2008. The Public Theater in NYC mounted concert productions in 2009 and 2010. It won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best New Musical of 2010. It won the Drama Desk Award for Best Book of a Musical as well. The show moved to Broadway, opening in October of 2010 where it received two Tony nominations. It closed after 129 performances. I was unable to locate many negative reviews for any of the productions. The critics praised the show at every turn but, with the exception of a loyal downtown following for the Off-Broadway concert productions, the show was never able to find its audience.
That’s unfortunate because the show is easy to like. It is funny, bawdy, in some places over the top but it ultimately carries a serious message. Some historical accuracy is sacrificed in the name of dramatic license but I can easily believe the spirit reflects what Jackson must have represented to the people of his time; both positively and negatively.
Even in a fully staged production the show feels like a concert. The metaphor of Andrew Jackson as Rock Star works better that way. The music is high-energy and well performed. The musical numbers are short, as much leitmotif as songs. The longest track on the cast recording is 2:44. I imagine it is what Rent would have sounded like if The Ramones had written the score.
The show’s promotional material includes the caption; “History Just Got All Sexypants” and asks the question; “Is wanting to have a beer with someone reason enough to elect him? What if he’s really, really hot?”
Near the end of the play, the character who functions as narrator, even after Jackson shoots her in the neck, reviews Jackson’s legacy. Some believe he was one of America’s greatest presidents, while others believe him to be an “American Hitler” for his policies toward Native Americans. Ultimately the play leaves it to the audience to judge.
The Youtube shows snippets from the Broadway production. The local production looked remarkably similar.