What do you get when you mix rock and roll, populism, and a touch of genocide? Wilmington’s City Theater Company’s BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, the over-the-edge tribute to the seventh President of the United States.
BBAJ is an emo musical, the trappings anachronistic, with the ensemble dressed in modern-day fashion influenced by punk rock and steampunk; things like cell phones, iPads and modern music are woven into the 19th Century story. Played by Righteous Jolly, Andrew Jackson is cool and sexy, at least when he’s not plotting to eradicate the Indian Nations (which really should have been a total dealbreaker). The people, especially the “common” people of the frontier, love him, and he revels in it, stirring up a devoted following that gives him the confidence to run for president. After some setbacks, he helps create the Democrat party and wins the presidency. As president, he disregards the Legislative and Judicial branches of the government and struggles with a populace that doesn’t know what it wants enough to guide his decisions.
The show glamorizes Jackson for sure, but it isn’t a major whitewashing of history. Instead, it owns most of it, from his bigamous marriage to his dirty treaties with the Indians and his fierce support for Indian relocation. (Slavery, however, is mostly glossed over.) In scenes with his wife Rachel (Kerry Kristine McElrone), there are shades of Sid and Nancy; when he loses the presidency to John Quincy Adams (Frank Schierloh) by a Congressional vote, there are shades of the 2000 election. In fact, there are more modern day parallels than I could count. At times, it seems that the writers, Alex Timber and Michael Friedman, meant it to be seen as a cautionary tale about the cult of personality; at others it comes off like a twisted celebration of political idol worship.
The hard-working ensemble play everything from Indians to Jackson groupies to the flamboyant crew of Washington elites, including Adams, James Monroe (Michael Renn), John Calhoun (Jim Burns), Henry Clay (Melissa Bernard) and Martin Van Buren (Adam Wahlberg), who do a number to Lady Gaga’s “Let’s Dance” and are generally made to look effeminate and uncool (did I mention that this is a very un-PC show?). Wahlberg’s Van Buren is a highlight, both as a cartoonish political fool and as Jackson’s vice president, where he makes Jackson look petulant and juvenile as he becomes the only thing keeping the administration afloat.
And then there’s the live band, led by Delaware music scene fixture Joe Trainor, who takes to the stage to sing lead on “Second Nature” and the show’s finale “Hunters of Kentucky.” The band is as much a part of the cast as the ensemble, which goes along with the concept that the actors utilize the whole room. This is not a typical show where the audience simple observes. The Black Box at OperaDelaware has been completely transformed into a sort of futuristic theater in the round with seating on both sides of the stage and actors moving in and out of the crowd, leading the audience in chants.
BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, running through May 12 at the Black Box at OperaDelaware Studios, is a can’t-miss show that should have people talking for a while.
BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON
Music & Lyrics by Michael Friedman
Book by Alex Timber
Directed by Michael Gray
Music Direction by Joe Trainor
April 27 – May 12, 2012
City Theater Company
4 South Poplar Street
Wilmington DE 19801