Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Written and Directed by Alex Timbers
Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman
Featuring Benjamin Walker, Kristine Nielsen, Darren Goldstein
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street
production web site: http://bloodybloodyandrewjackson.com/index.html
September 20, 2010 (first preview), October 13, 2010 (opening) — open run
Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
October 26, 2010
- “Direct democracy directly applied is totes lame.” (Andrew Jackson on the Trail of Tears)
- “You can’t shoot history in the head.” (Story Teller to Andrew Jackson on his gun slinging ways. Best laugh line in the show and in retrospect. Perhaps not as the playwright intended.)
- “Rachel is dead so I guess her cancer wasn’t metaphorical after all.”
Evoking the structure of the 1965 movie Cat Ballou (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059017/ – story teller, a hero and that person’s comrades, a quest, wide open spaces, and music – there’s a story teller here too, played by Kristine Nielsen) we learn of Andrew Jackson (the charming Benjamin Walker) as a wild west man in tight jeans, his polygamous marriage, and his improbable journey to the White House. The pace and structure of this rocky-ballady-musical history lesson never intends for us as audience members to be in the moment, any of the multiple separate scenes, for more than mere moments before we careen into the next twee or sophomoric reflection on American democracy in its 1700s beginnings. Andrew Jackson in tight jeans (the characters *do* make quite a point of this fact) as the kid from the sticks who was parentless through cholera and/or Native American attacks in the Tennessee territory. Andrew who is the man of the people who resents privilege out of the class system but wallows in his own excesses. Andrew who plays most of the show with a blood-stained shirt. With dancing Representatives and Senators.
The energy is spiffy. The world crafted by scenic designer Donyale Werle is perhaps worth the price of admission, and fully lives up to the lush description provided in an extended piece in the New York Times on October 6, 2010 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/theater/10bloody.html). I sat far audience left way up front, with view partially obscured to the performance but in full view of an array of fun detritus in the corner of the theatre by the stage including: a black bird statue, an unidentified 18th-century character’s portrait. and empty 21st-century beer cans and bottles, with reddish-orange fairy lights hanging above me.
The music and some lyrical layering (both by Michael Friedman) are often lovely. One particular musical through line I identified during the show illustrates Andrew Jackson’s resistance to playing with the nation’s leaders. “I’m Not that Guy” morphs into a similarly structured comparison piece a bit later “I’m So That Guy”, illustrating his enthusiastic transition into a national candidate, out of pain and frustration”. A side note: what is it with musicals these days and the inconsistent listing of songs and characters in the playbill? Some do it, some don’t — is it that to do this simple thing is seen as old-fashioned? There are costs. When the tunes aren’t listed, the company, the producers, the playwright, the actors, lose one more chance of building the world before, during, and after the show for those who attend to these things. I take notes, I refer to Internet Broadway Database (as I did to confirm these tune titles), but this shouldn’t be this difficult. Now I step down from my little soap box.
This show had an extended and rapturously received run at the Public in the Spring of this year. The energy of the music and the irreverence of the story telling at this point of U.S. history and the evolving life of the American musical has made for some a kind of magic. Reviews of that run and of this current Broadway run (in previews since late September and official open since mid October) often start out with the reviewer’s acknowledgement that the show is irreverent and audacious and somehow it works for them. So there. And then for some of us it works for a while (whether the atmosphere created by the set designer or the general mood until there’s one joke too many) and then it doesn’t.
I expect this show will live for a while. There clearly is much room on Broadway for 90-minute experiences that are based on history or that merely provide a wash of energy and movement or a hyper-stylized history lesson cum social commentary. Where some see wit, I am simply made to feel weary. Perhaps a different directorial hand than that of the book writer will assist in finding something other than the relentless snarky pace this show presented to me. Or perhaps that’s precisely what this show offers and I’m not its target audience.
© Martha Wade Steketee (October 28, 2010)