There aren’t enough “bloody”s in the title to describe the carnage Andrew Jackson wrought in his long seventy eight years on earth but Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s outrageous rock musical, BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON (@ The Umbrella through April 6th) will do its damndest to set the record straight.
When I was in school (during the Dark Ages), we were taught how heroic “Old Hickory” Jackson had been in the War of 1812.We weren’t told that he conducted military raids when he saw fit, perpetually disobeying orders from Washington. Even as he was being censured by Congress, he drove out the French, the British, the Spanish and the Native-Americans from Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, amassing vast, new territory for an expanding United States. To say he was reviled by the governing elite is putting it mildly—although they didn’t see fit to return the illegally procured land.
Friedman and Timbers’ sardonic musical not only chronicles Jackson’s rise to the Presidency, it manages to show us how little has changed over the years. An election not decided by the vote? Involving Florida? If you’re thinking Gore/Bush and the hanging chads, you’re not going back far enough. In his first run for the Presidency, Jackson won the popular vote outright but the “Washington insiders” and their “one party rule” named John Quincy Adams the winner instead.
When he ran again, his platform sounded a lot like Ronald Reagan’s: He vowed to take the country back from the “Federal Monarchy” up north. He stirred up the electorate with talk about “fear along the borders.” He created an oppositional party (which would become the Democratic Party). But it was his claim to be a “man of the people” that got him elected. He was a man of contradictions. He owned slaves. He instituted a forced march which killed over 4000 Native-Americans, pushing them west and away from the white “pioneers.” Yet he adopted an orphaned Native-American boy as his son.
Director James Tallach’s wild, “take no prisoners” production plays up the humor lurking beneath the history lesson, so we see our forefathers at their worst. Gene Dante gives a fiery tour de force as the conflicted Jackson, belting out one of the best numbers in the show (Why don’t you just shoot me in the head…?) like a rock star. Dante keeps the energy on stage pulsing to music director Maria Duaime Robinson’s pounding beat, as if he were the lead singer in a rock concert.
Shana Dirik is hilarious as the unwanted narrator/tour guide and Andrea Giangreco supplies lovely pathos as Jackson’s wife (although she was already married when they wed). Tallach has a talented cast to supply all the historical figures. Robert Case is wonderfully preposterous as that “weasel,” Henry Clay and Stefanie Ernst and crew deliver a fierce “Ten Little Indians” (and then there were none). As Tallach says, “The show is part rock show, part comedic farce, and almost entirely insane.” I would agree.