by Christine Dolen
All the buzz in New York theater this season has been about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop Hamilton, the scorching hot hit about the United States’ first treasury secretary, which will land on Broadway in mid-July after its sold-out run at the Public Theater.
But before Hamilton, in 2010, the Public sent another mash-up of 21st century music and early American history to Broadway: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
Fort Lauderdale’s Outré Theatre Company has brought Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s emo-style musical to the Abdo New River Room at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The pumped-up show about a divisive president — his historical rep, the musical argues, runs the gamut from great leader to perpetrator of genocide — adds to a spring surge in intriguing productions in a county that hasn’t been as hospitable to theater as Miami-Dade or Palm Beach. But as the surge demonstrates, Broward theater is on the upswing.
With echoes of Spring Awakening and American Idiot, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson offers an in-your-face, anachronistic yet resonant take on America’s seventh president.
The score, performed by musical director-keyboard player Kristen Long (who also sings beautifully) with Wayne Rediker on guitar, Martha Spangler on bass and Walt Brewer on percussion, presents Jackson as a rock-star military leader and politician (Rock Star is one of the songs). The haunting Ten Little Indians suggests the ruin of Native American lives, with plenty of blame going to the territory-acquiring Jackson — who, as the show argues, put “the ‘man’ in ‘Manifest Destiny.’” The music thunders and softens repeatedly through the course of the show, and it’s all impressively sung.
Outré and director Skye Whitcomb include a full page of warnings in the show’s program, for good reason. Bloody Bloody contains profanity (some defacing portraits on the set), offensive language, sexual innuendo and stinging political satire that will remind audiences of just how little down-and-dirty politics have changed from Jackson’s day to the nasty, paralyzing present. The show is a wild, pointedly provocative ride, and those who like their entertainment pleasantly inoffensive shouldn’t think about hopping aboard.
Robert Johnston plays Jackson with an emo broodiness mixed with volatility and a populist appeal. He bonds with Kaitlyn O’Neill as Rachel, Jackson’s controversial wife (she wasn’t actually divorced when they first married), through the song Illness as Metaphor, and O’Neill has a powerful song about political sacrifice in The Great Compromise (though its fleeting reference to the Jacksons’ slave owning is a jarring reminder of that particular presidential fact).
Rick Peña as Henry Clay, Conor Walton as a lollipop-licking John Quincy Adams, Geoff Short as John C. Calhoun, Michael Mena as James Monroe and Noah Levine as Martin Van Buren deftly ride the satirical waves in their roles. Mena also plays Black Fox, symbol of Jackson’s treatment of native Americans. Jennipher Murphy has a kooky, surprising role as a historian lecturing about Jackson. Elvin Negron, Jordana Forrest, Christina Groom and Erica Mendez amplify the show’s vocal power and, along with young Leo Valentine Kaplan as Jackson’s adopted son Lyncoya, go full out with its brashness.
The set, costumes and choreography, all by Sabrina Lynn Gore, are of a creatively anachronistic piece with a musical that has its 19th century characters using cellphones, ordering pizza and using street language. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson takes plenty of liberties. But a stodgy history lesson it is not.