Fair warning: “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” isn’t your typical stage bio. In fact, with its macho, beefcake lead, rockin’ score, and broad, burlesque-y style, it’s anything but.
It is, however, lots of fun.
Benjamin Walker plays Jackson — the seventh President of the United States — as a strutting, hip-swinging statesman, a real cock-of-the-walk. (If Elvis ever went to Washington, this is what he would look like.) In broadly funny strokes, his early years are brought to life: first as the son of Injun-hating parents (who are quickly dispatched, in slapstick fashion, early on), then as the young populist who takes the plunge into politics in order to help the common (read: white) man. Soon he’s negotiating with the Indians, grabbing land back from the Spaniards — who have themselves taken over a chunk of the South — and up to his bleary eyeballs in all the problems that you would expect a busy nineteenth-century Chief Executive to have to face.
The whole thing could have been played out as the driest of history lessons, but it isn’t. Instead, it’s played almost entirely for comedy, and the people surrounding him are portrayed not as characters, but caricatures, particularly the power brokers in Washington, who are — all of them–buffoons. (Were the writers making a point about the state of affairs in D.C. today? Probably) Only at the end do the laughs stop and the serious questions about Jackson’s presidency begin: already in trouble for some of the decisions he’s made — chief among them the blatant land grab that led to the displacement of countless Cherokees — he finds himself wondering, as do we: could he have handled it all in a less hateful, less harmful way?
Walker is excellent — young, trim tousle-haired, he begins his macho posturing even before the first number is performed, and until the script demands it, never stops. His supporting cast shines, too, some of them even tackling instruments and joining the rockin’ onstage band. The score by Michael Friedman is exciting, the direction by Alex Timbers (who also penned the book) keeps things moving almost as fast as the rise and fall of Jackson’s meteoric political career, and the set — featuring, among other things, a slew of spectacular chandeliers hanging over the heads of the audience and portraits of grim-faced men, no doubt Jackson’s contemporaries, adorning the walls — was every bit as eye-catching as the frenetic action onstage.
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” might not be quite as much of a blast as some other rock-influenced musicals — ”The Rocky Horror Show” and “Return to the Forbidden Planet” come to mind — but at only ninety minutes (without an intermission), it goes by in a snap.
THEATER REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien