Stepping into the Bernard Jacobs Theatre you are immediately transported, and you will likely wonder where exactly you’ve gone.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jacskon, a production that itself has recently been transported from The Public Theater to Broadway, blurs all sorts of lines. The set travels past the edge of the stage and into the audience. Pink neon light bars adorned with hanging chandeliers blend modern design with period set pieces, and draw the audience member’s eye from the decorated auditorium down to the stage. There are deer heads covered in plastic bags mounted on the proscenium, further taking authentic and period design of the late 18th century frontier and modernizing it. The design is a success. Even before the show begins the audience is immersed, believing at once that they are going to see a show about the life of Andrew Jackson and a rock concert. What’s more, and unlike some shows that allow their sets to penetrate the fourth wall, the audience feels engulfed in the vibe of the show without ever doubting that the stage is going to be where the action happens.
Two band members in emo rock dress step onto the frontier decorated stage continuing the stylistic amalgam. The audience perks up as the band members tune their instruments; the show is about to begin. When it does we are transported back in time… well sort of. We watch Andrew Jackson wage war and surmount Washington bureaucracy, but we also watch him sing about how each of his presidential predecessors tried and failed to be rock stars and talk to the audience about how sexy they all are. He is a populist president rock star.
An old woman in a hand-knit sweater on a motorized scooter rides onto stage to narrate. This is but one of the show’s Brechtian moments. A scene where Jackson and his soon to be wife literally splash blood on each other to demonstrate their love, along with many other scenes of such showy and dubious nature make it clear to the audience that the creators of this musical want them to know that they are watching a show. But the same writers that expose their musical as a show blur this mode of story telling and deliver some very true moments. This is quite an achievement; we are actively aware that we are watching a show but still get involved with Jackson’s struggle. The effect is enormously engrossing.
You could expect that with this multi-tiered blending of styles that a theatrical work would become foggy, or that its action would become vague. With a blended aesthetic, and a mix of showiness and truth in its storytelling Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson certainly takes the risk that it could lose its audience along the way. The pithy 90 minute show though, filled with driving music, biting lyrics, outrageously hilarious moments, fine performances, and a fun attitude never ceases to entertain, and so the majority of the audience will accept its decided ambivalence towards style. Furthermore many audience-members will hopefully see that this ambivalence in storytelling achieves its greatest effect in paralleling the ambivalence many historians feel towards Jackson’s legacy. As the show itself points out, Jackson is seen by some as one of America’s greatest leaders of the people, by some as a genocidal maniac, and by most as a man with a very mixed legacy. The audience will most likely leave with this same ambivalence; with my own bias against Jackson entering the theatre, I found myself uncertain of my prior views. This holds true to the historical Jackson we know of from books, the one we see physically on stage, and also the modern applications of his legacy we might imagine in our minds.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson takes a character on the stage, makes its audience question everything we know about him, then beckons us to question everything we know about the historical figure he represents. The show is no mere history lesson though; it is almost shocking how easily Jackson’s story translates to modern politics. The show calls its audience members to question everything they know about the people’s will and the leaders those people call upon to execute that will. It is a thoroughly contemporary and exciting experience, and is sure to entertain a wide audience. From emo rock enthusiasts, to history buffs, to those who merely enjoy new and original theatre, this production is not to be missed.
Cody Holliday Haefner, CC’12