New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"
Public Theater

Looking for a good new musical? Make way for the smashing “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” a rock musical with a difference. It’s actually melodic, with a story and developed characters. Besides being the season’s best tuner, it’s also our first Tea Party show, if you’ve been waiting for that, demonstrating both the attractions and dangers of government run strictly “by the people.”

Backwoodsman Jackson was a tough bird, earning the nickname “Old Hickory.” An Army general, he defeated Seminoles in Florida and the British in New Orleans during the War of 1812. Helping found the Democratic Party, he ran for president in 1824, winning the popular vote but losing what was deemed a “stolen election” in the House of Representatives. (Sound familiar?) Next time around, he won, becoming the nation’s seventh chief executive.

On stage, Benjamin Walker is a rock star Jackson, insouciantly thrusting his tall, handsome figure in clinging white shirt and black jeans in our faces. Ranging from infantile to shrewd, he’s a spokesman for angry frontiersman, which seems to include everyone but so-called elitists. “I am just as good as those northern aristocrats,” he says. “All they do is tax.” But theoretical policy questions are not his bag; rather, he seduces with sex and appeals to voters’ lowest instincts. (Sound familiar?)

One of the show’s virtues is its ability to laud Jackson while condemning him and the power to the people movement he championed – until he saw that it didn’t work. Here’s the guy who resettled Indians, forcing them west of the Mississippi on a march known as the “Trail of Tears.” Here’s the bigamist and the sanguinary pragmatist who says, “Sometimes you have to kill everyone.”

Besides Walker, who’s so charismatic it’s criminal, this is a multi-talented troupe of actors and onstage musicians. Historical characters like Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams and John Calhoun show up in amusing and telling ways, as do various women and hangars-on.

But the show, written and directed by the brilliant Alex Timbers, with emo-rock music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, is hardly a history lesson. With driving musical numbers, gobs of 19th century melodrama, jokes, anachronisms (“What people want is pizza”), satiric and ironic thrusts, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” is a deliciously entertaining look at who we are, where we came from and where we might be going. Years from now, it may also be seen as a signpost of the nation’s continuing decline into infantilism or, if luck turns, its emergence into maturity.

--David A. Rosenberg
May 20, 2010

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