BOTTOM LINE: A strikingly poignant political allegory, told through a totally silly (and incredibly offensive) new musical romp.
To say this musical is polarizing is barely cracking the surface of its intent to get under its audience’s skin. In only 90 minutes, it presents an immense amount of material and although it certainly offers opinions, you could argue that it just doesn’t do enough commenting. It’s a challenge in itself to disclose the lifespan of an overactive president in that short amount of time, let alone to do it through song, dance and satire. Perhaps a little more honing in could’ve done the show well, although I’d guess it was intentional to skirt the surface and let the audience leave with ideas and questions of their own.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was written a few years ago, and it underwent several workshops and then an off-Broadway run at the Public Theatre last spring. (Read Molly's review of the off-Broadway production here). Its transfer to Broadway came as a bit of a surprise, mostly because it’s an anti-musical in a lot of ways. It satirizes the traditional musical theatre form (sort of like Urinetown did) and it is highly offensive (think South Park). No minority is off limits in this show. Sometimes shows that start downtown lose their edge in a commercial arena; Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson actually achieves the opposite. Its self-importance has found its rightful home.
Turns out Andrew Jackson’s life story is appropriate material for a Broadway musical. He was “the people’s president,” more or less, forging his political agenda and killing a LOT of Native Americans along the way. From a meager upbringing, his rise to the presidency was met with opposition (because he was kind of a douche bag). Played with glorious amounts of ego by Ben Walker, Jackson is actually sort of sympathetic, despite his tyrannical ways.
Alex Timbers’ script divulges Jackson’s life (taking several artistic liberties along the way) and yet it maintains a sense of allegory that isn’t missed, but still isn’t crammed down your throat. Angry Americans who stand behind the little guy preaching change and democracy? That’s the kind of rhetoric that accompanies candidates today (whether an elite junior Senator from Illinois or a backwoods ex-Governor from Alaska). Broadway shows, especially musicals, often lack political or social commentary; lighthearted escapism is the norm. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson does a commendable job balancing humor and substance.
As previously stated, this show is an equal-opportunity offender. It takes jabs at nearly every minority possible. Maybe this is to make a point about the discrimination that’s always been prevalent in American society in one form or another, or maybe it’s just the show’s chosen approach to its humor. Whatever the intent, it can come off as seriously disrespectful, probably in large part due to the fact that the performers are all white, pretty, and look like they could have come from privileged upbringings. Do you have to be part of a minority group to mock it? That’s a different conversation. But suffice to say, if you are easily offended, be forewarned that Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson has been known to do just that.
Plot and content aside, this show is put together wonderfully. Michael Friedman’s score gaily accompanies the story – mocking traditional musical theatre, while still throwing a bone to the genre’s enjoyable sentiment. The set (by Donyale Werle), which looks like a Southern antique shop vomited on the Jacobs Theatre, is completely clever and entertaining in its own right. Even the lighting and sound design (by Justin Townsend and Bart Fasbender, respectively) are creatively appropriate for the show.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’s tag line is “history just got all sexypants.” Not only might this be the best tag line ever, it’s seriously evocative of the show’s personality. It’s not for everyone, and it’s tenure on Broadway is uncertain (despite raves from critics), but it does what it intends to do masterfully.
(Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson plays at the Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street. Performances are Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets are $51.50-$131.50. Win $20 tickets through a ticket lottery 1.5 hours before performance at the box office. For tickets visit telecharge.com or call 212.239.6200. For more show info visit bloodybloodyandrewjackson.com.)