Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Written and directed by Alex Timbers
Music & Lyrics by Michael Friedman
It's been a long road to Broadway for the politically relevant and irreverent Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson: it traveled from N.Y. to L.A. and back, went from a well-received concert version to a hot-ticket Public Theater run. For years, Ben Brantley has had to write a new rave every eight months. Now the rock musical has finally hit the mainstream, but the production hasn't changed much: as it was downtown, the theater is still decked out in red lights and crimson felt like a Wild West bordello; the House still pumps-up the crowd pre-show with a Spoon record. And Bloody Bloody hasn't lost a page of the wicked comedy and embittered emotion that got it to the Bernard B. Jacobs (though a few lines have been tweaked)—it's still the best thing playing on a stage in New York, the smartest, funniest and most meaningful, using its aggressively politically incorrect humor to eviscerate the American voter.
Tracking the populist political career of our seventh president—"the fellow who puts the 'man' in 'manifest destiny,'" the guy who "makes Jefferson look like a pussy"—with anachronisms, foul language and rock music, the show uses its decidedly lowbrow humor to underline the petty self-centeredness that motivates our body politic, that animates its perpetually righteous fury at the ol' do-nothin' congress. (It does so with humor because, like Stewart-Colbert, the show understands the only way to cope with this crazy country is to chuckle.) Scoring the show with a dozen emo songs drives home this hilarious, humiliating portrait of a country unable to consider anything but its own feelings. In "I'm Not That Guy," Jackson (Benjamin Walker, in a rock star-making performance) sings, "Life sucks/And my life sucks in particular." The very first song celebrates the virtues of populism, but first complains about the girls who wouldn't pay attention to the guys who weren't "cool" in high school. It's American History as populated by ninth graders. As such, it starts to illustrate the intellectual level of our present discourse, from the endless accusations of homosexuality to one Jackson voter exclaiming, "He's the candidate I'd most like to have a beer with!" echoing the logic of onetime George W. Bush supporters.
Supplying contemporary flavor to a 19th Century story works here, because the real influence of Jackson's firebranded populism extends to today: he not only founded the Democratic party, on the one (left) hand, but took much of the land that would come to compromise the American South, on the other (right). Brantley noted in the Times that when he saw the show in 08, it seemed to skewer the idealism of the Obama movement. Last year, The L's Ryan Vlastelica pointed out the pointed Tea Party parallels. But Andrew Jackson's satire operates so broadly because it doesn't actually attack any particular side—it ridicules the absurdity of democracy itself, in entrusting governance to the populace, with their easily manipulated emotions. In Jackson's time, as today, there was trouble on the borders; terror in the Homeland; swelling anger among The Elites. But, the show suggests, if there has been one constant throughout American history, dependable above all others, it hasn't been fear, vulnerability or resentment—it's been the idiocy of the electorate.
(photo credit: Joan Marcus)
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson