by JW Arnold
Don’t say you weren’t warned. Outre Theatre’s production of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” at the Broward Center contains: strobing lights, profanity, offensive language, political satire, sexual innuendo, sexual out-uendo, taxidermy, corsets, children with tomahawks, bottled water, weasel coats, defaced portraits, twinkies, fake mustaches and a vibraslap. And then there’s the question of revisionist history.
Plenty of modern references pepper the show, which explores Jackson’s youth, rise to prominence as an “Indian fighter” and hero of the Battle of New Orleans, and later, as the populist president who railed against the Washington aristocracy.The rollicking rock musical about our seventh president, a big hit Off Broadway that fizzled on the big, big money stage on Broadway, is the perfect vehicle for Outre and its leadership, artistic director Skye Whitcomb and assistant Sabrina Lynn Gore.
In many ways, the show offers especially relevant commentary today as the public discourse focuses on the one percent and the seeming political power of the monied elite a century and a half later. Stymied by a belligerent Congress, Jackson resorted to sweeping executive actions similar to those taken by President Obama, only to be labeled a tyrant. The book by Alex Timbers and score by Michael Friedman also takes aim at homosexuals, liberals, environmentalists and the other frequent targets of modern conservatives.
Robert Johnston offers a breakout performance, transforming Jackson into an Emo rock star, dramatically delivering the internal conflict the president faced while soaring vocally in numbers such as “I’m Not that Guy” and “I’m So that Guy.” Between the theatrical and musical demands, it’s a tough role to pull off, but Johnston conquers, guyliner and all.
The strong ensemble cast features many familiar young performers, all with strong voices, covering a number of roles: Kaitlyn O’Neill (Rachel Jackson), Rick Pena (Henry Clay), Conor Walton (John Quincy Adams) and Noah Levine (Martin Van Buren). Jennifer Murphy is the lesbian, wheelchair-bound storyteller, a Wellesley grad student who wrote her thesis about Jackson and often gets sidetracked with her personal historical recollections.
The players are accompanied by an accomplished rock band led by Kristen Long, who did triple duty as musical director, keyboardist and the fill-in for the storyteller after Jackson pushes her off a cliff. Yes, a cliff. (We’re thinking that didn’t really happen, either.)
The Broward Center’s Abdo New River Room is an appropriate space for the single set production, a graffiti-covered Antebellum sitting room designed by Gore. She also created the ‘80s punk-inspired costumes that manage never to stray too far from the actual fashions of the early-19th century. And, while the performances were polished and delivered with verve, some of the technical aspects still need some work, lighting and sound, in particular. No doubt the kinks will get worked out over the two-week run.
In many ways, history is still deciding Jackson’s legacy. Did the so-called Trail of Tears make him a visionary who simply enacted manifest destiny or the genocidal murderer of tens of thousands of Native Americans forced to march west?
History is often revisionist and attitudes evolve — or devolve. Just ask the Texas state textbook commission. Regardless, Outre’s production of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” delivers a thought-provoking performance despite the frequent f-bombs, sexual innuendo, sexual out-uendo, taxidermy and the lot.