Actor’s Express’ “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” comes careening toward you like an out of control roller coaster driven by adolescents full of raging hormones, impatience, and a hopped up sense of entitlement—all drunk with the ecstasy of being alive. Less is not more in this universe: “More” is all that counts. The show will run through February 17. Something tells me “Bloody Bloody” could easily acquire a cult following.
This happened when the show opened Off Broadway in May 2009 and quickly became the critics’ darling; it opened on Broadway in October 2010 and didn’t have a long run (for debatable reasons), but by then it was a New York theatre legend, bestowing star status on Benjamin Walker.
This is an emo rock musical—a style of rock music with melodic, expressive, often confessional, self-mocking lyrics, such as “Populism, Yea, Yea!” which could be the show’s anthem. How could all this hoopla emerge from our nation’s seventh President? Well—it’s difficult to convey the passionate, free-wheeling, circus-like atmosphere of BBAJ; I daresay that live theatre is the only art form that could do it justice. And I can’t answer my own question; you’re going to have to see this show to “get it.” And I heartily recommend that you do just that, if you are a theatre lover.
The book was written by Alex Timbers; the music and lyrics by Michael Friedman; and the show is directed with vim and vigor by Freddie Ashley.
You may have seen the current film “Lincoln.” Remember how folks could just saunter into the White House and line up for a personal audience with Abe Lincoln himself? The atmosphere was controlled chaos. Andrew Jackson, the first president not from Virginia or Massachusetts, but from the hills of Tennessee, started this kind of populist colloquy. My companion for the evening called BBAJ “the psychotic side of ‘Lincoln’” – not a bad analogy, though of course the two men are completely different—I think. Incidentally, Jackson was orphaned at age 14—by Indians and cholera.
“Would you like to see my stimulus package?” Jackson pointedly asks a female member of the audience. You see, “sex is politics,” as the late Gore Vidal once wrote in an essay of the same name; and people thought him outrageous, crazy or both. But the Andrew Jackson of BBAJ understood that perfectly. And he is played here with star-making charisma by Maxim Gukham. I saw this actor last summer in a couple of plays at Georgia Shakespeare and thought “Who is this guy?” It turns out my expectations were not unfounded. He sings (with a fine, powerful voice), he preens, he romances, he shoots people. What more do you want?
And he marries a luminous, lusty lass named Rachel, played with passionate panache by Galen Crawley. Neither is bothered by the inconvenient fact that she’s married to another at the time. The show is full of anachronisms; so many that you almost stop noticing them. Kerrie Seymour plays a prim schoolteacher-like storyteller, but Jackson decides he can tell his own story and shoots her—but not before she utters, prophetically, “You can’t shoot history in the neck!” AJ then uses the band as confidants/storytellers! The cast is fine and large; I wish I could list them all.
There is a dark side to all this, of course. D.H. Lawrence once observed, “The American soul is hard, isolated, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” What about the Native Americans that Jackson either “relocated” or killed? And he owned slaves. There are no easy answers here.
The set (Kat Conley) works brilliantly; it’s as full of color and surprises as the show itself is. Imagine a song called “Illness as Metaphor,” which is actually a famous essay by Susan Sontag! Cher pops up also. I can’t guarantee that you’ll love BBAJ, but the Express once again pushes the envelope. See it—or you won’t know what the fuss is all about.
For tickets and information, visit actors-express.com.