What a brilliant way to get young people (and the rest of us) interested in history. By the time you leave SpeakEasy Stage’s badass BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON (playing through Nov. 17th), you’ll be well versed on early 19th century America. My generation had only a Top 40 hit by Johnnie Horton to introduce us to The Battle of New Orleans!
After seeing SpeakEasy’s outrageous rock musical, I’m reading everything I can find about our 7th President. Mind you, you’ll have to get used to the “language” (as they say on television warnings) but creators Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman have something to say about politics, namely that little has changed over the years. If you’re still smarting from the Bush-Gore election outcome, you’ll be surprised (and appalled) that it’s happened before.
Jackson is considered to be the first democratically elected “man of the people.” If you’ve heard of the infamous “Trail of Tears,” then you know about the forced march which killed 4000 Native Americans, pushing them west and away from white “settlers.” That, too, was Jackson. And, this being in the south before The Civil War, he owned slaves.
You can see from the many parallels to our present day (like the “fear along the borders” concern and the many patronage positions Jackson filled with his friends) why Timbers and Friedman were drawn to this historical period, with its unwanted wars and shady politics.
The music is reminiscent of AMERICAN IDIOT but not as freewheeling because of its subject matter. It soars in numbers like the sardonic “Ten Little Indians,” deliciously rocked by Amy Jo Jackson… and in the Brechtian anthem, “The Saddest Song” where Gus Curry as Jackson laments the wrong he’s done. You can see the madness and the sadness “behind blue eyes” in Curry’s world weary portrayal at the end of Jackson’s life. And he lets you see the wildness in the early Jackson. Director Paul Melone’s entire cast is first rate.
Alessandra Vaganek gives a stong, touching performance as Jackson’s soul mate (who married him before her divorce was final). Music director Nicholas James Connell performs in front of the orchestra as well as in it, leading the powerful ensemble, with hilarious narration by Mary Callanan and cameos by Michael Levesque as Red Eagle, Diego Klock-Perez as Black Fox and Joshua Pemberton as Martin Van Buren.
Eric Levenson’s funky antique farm implements and frontier detritus adorn a nifty fence through which arrows thwack (one of Eric Norris’ clever, cheeky sounds for the production) into the backs of the land-grabbing, genocidal “pioneers.” The BIG message which turns the raucous proceedings serious comes only at the end (in the form of masks). I wish it had come a little earlier.