Review: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – 4.5 stars

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Oct 19 to Nov 17, 2012, at the SpeakEasy Stage Company, 539 Tremont St, Boston, MA

Review by Revonda Mehovic

“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”, a rock opera written by Alex Timbers with music and lyrics by Michael Freeman is currently presented by the SpeakEasy Stage Company, the resident theatre company of the Calderwood Pavillion, located at 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA. The rock opera is directed by Paul Melon and stars Brandon Barbosa, Samil Battenfield, Mary Callanan, Nicholas James Connell, Gus Curry, Ryan Halsaver, Tom Hamlett, Amy Jo Jackson, Diego Klock-Perez, Michael Levensque, Evan Murphy, Joshua Pemberton, Ben Rosenblatt, Alessandra Vaganek, and Brittany Walters. “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” plays now through November 17th. The performance lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

Most blind dates are only memorable in a bad sense, where they end up being fodder for conversation over drinks with friends. Fortunately, the “creative blind date” over coffee between writer Alex Timbers and musician Michael Freeman had a much happier ending. In one caffeine-fueled afternoon, they came up with the core concept for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”, a tongue in cheek rock opera that asks a critical question about our nation’s 7th president. Namely, was Andrew Jackson our most Emo president ever?

It’s clear from the first song and dance number, “Populism, Yea Yea!”, that this is not going to be your usual period piece. The players are dressed as punk-emo incarnations of historical figures, with outfits that seem to rely heavily on accessories from “Hot Topic”. But don’t worry, they wear it well. These anachronisms work well for the story of Andrew Jackson, a president whose legacy seems to change with each printing of the history textbooks. Was he a hero for the common man or America’s Hitler? “Bloody Blood Andrew Jackson” embraces these contradictions even going so far as to up the ante for what it means to be historically accurate. This rock opera doesn’t mind altering a few details in order to convey the right atmosphere. For example, I’m guessing that Jackson’s cabinet members probably didn’t waste time playing Wii bowling, yet this gives a clear representation of their inactivity. It’s also pretty funny.

One of my favorite parts of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” was its introduction of the Federalists James Munroe, John Calhoun, Martin Van Buren and John Quincy Adams as recreated by Gus Curry, Ryan Halsaver, Joshua Pemberton, and Tom Hamlett, choreographed by Larry Sousa. They catwalk onto stage with the music of the “Spice Girls” pounding in the background. With their heavily brocaded clothes and mincing demeanor, it is clear that they have lost touch with a large portion of their constituents. Andrew Jackson’s gritty brand of directly applied violence seems more in tune with popular sentiment than these Federalists’ upper-class affectations.

In spite of its frothiness, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” doesn’t skimp on the historical tidbits. In fact, it’s loaded with them. Many of these are introduced as asides by a storyteller character, played with aplomb by Mary Callahan. Callahan’s depiction of the storyteller is one of the most hilarious in the entire musical. She giddily stops the action in several key scenes to fill us in on extra details, even when that means everyone has to stop in mid-fight. From her bubbly manner, her Andrew Jackson T-Shirt, and her pink clogs, it’s clear that she’s “that” History teacher. You know, the one that was actually really into history. It’s almost inevitable that she gets shot. Fortunately, that doesn’t keep her from coming back again and again, crawling if need be, to continue our education.

There are many reasons to see “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”: whether it be the omnipresent dark humor, Nicholas James Connell’s music direction, Angie Jepson’s fight choreography, or just the desire to see how far a rock opera will take the story of one of history’s most controversial figures. It’s not often that one play presents such a perfect amalgam of depth of story and spectacle. With its wry depiction of the inner workings of the political machine, which manages to neither let off the politicians nor the voting public, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” manages to make a point about modern day politics as well.

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