Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
The Wilbury Group’s current production of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," a raw, edgy, politically incorrect, pseudo biographical rock musical about our nation’s seventh president, bursts with energy, artistry, satire and revisionist history.
With book by Alex Timbers and music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" enjoyed a lengthy Off-Broadway run, followed by a brief Broadway run in 2010 that garnered two Tony nods. Defying tradition, the show -- equal parts history lesson, love story, performance art and rock concert -- is unapologetically gritty, irreverent, and intentionally ridiculous, yet indeed very funny.
I’ll confess that I was one of the few who ventured to New York to see this production on Broadway, and other than the lead actor’s performance, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the "Saturday Night Live" sketch gone on too long presentation.
That being said, I welcomed the opportunity to see it again, and this time around, I noticed an improvement almost instantly. With the band slightly elevated on stage, and the cast performing before and among an audience seated cabaret-style in an old warehouse, I was happily reminded that this is what experimental theater is supposed to feel like.
The controversial president’s legacy includes founding the Democratic Party, as well as forcibly removing Indian tribes from their land. Portrayed by Joe Short, whose stellar performance plays second fiddle to his magnetic stage presence, Jackson’s anti-establishment stance grows from Spanish, British and Indian attacks on American territory during which the US government stands idly by.
Following a series of bloody victories, most notably the Battle of New Orleans that expunged the British, Jackson develops a loyal following to join his rallying cry, and eventually, after one failed attempt (despite having won the most electoral and popular votes), he is elected President in 1928.
Like most historical figures, especially those in politics, Jackson’s personal and professional life were intermingled and often with precarious results. Andrew weds the love of his life, Rachel (Alyssa Gorgone, who shines and sings brightly), while she is already married, and his bigamy is later held against him as a public figure.
Having adopted an Indian boy, Lyncoya (Jo-an Peralta), has no bearing when the President destroys his alliance with Black Fox (Dave Rabinow) by refusing to allow his longtime Native American friend consult with his tribe and instead orders troops to clear them out.
One could argue that historical subject matter is hardly fodder to break out in song (although I suppose the same could be said of the renowned musical, "1776"), but these are not your standard show tunes, especially with titles such as, "Illness As Metaphor," "The Corrupt Bargain," and "Crisis Averted," which sound more like themes for a poetry slam. The soundtrack is still host to a few catchy songs, the most memorable of which being the opening number, "Populism, Yea, Yea!"
Also present to seemingly help further the exposition are four former presidents, John Quincy Adams (Stuart Wilson), Henry Clay (Rabinow), James Monroe (Andrew Stigler) and Martin Van Buren (Kelly Seigh), whose combined superfluous behavior and commentary is equally laughable as laudable. In addition, the unbiased words of Storyteller Clare Blackmer carry perhaps the most weight, considering the wounds inflicted upon her by the protagonist.
The content is not what makes this production a must-see, but rather the entire experience, because it’s pretty much unlike anything that has seen the likes of a Broadway stage. "Bloody Bloody" boasts a cast rife with talent, under the keen direction of Josh Short and David Tessier (with a force of a band to be reckoned with), that could well turn out to be the highlight of Rhode Island’s summer theater season.
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" runs through July 28 at the Butcher Block Mill, 25 Eagle Street, Providence. For info or tickets, visit The Wilbury Group’s website.