BWW Review: BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON at Custom Made Theatre Company Takes An Anarchic Rock Approach To The Genocidal, Land-Grabbing President
Haven't seen a historical biography quite like Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman's that mixes anarchy, emo rock and savage satire to poke fun at our seventh president, exposing our country's predilection towards political populism and unflinching genocide. Artistic Director Brian Katz helms the production allowing the dark comedy to unravel with a score like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, its closest neighbor stylistically.
Narrated by a dorky teenage girl with a huge celebrity crush on Jackson, we find out how tough life is in rural Tennessee. His parents die of cholera leaving teenage Jackson an orphan hell bent on killing him some foreigners, which happens to include Native Americans. He easily justifies his white privilege of land ownership, glibly making treaties, breaking them and causing mass genocide of tribe after tribe.
James Grady, in his first speaking role, plays Jackson with a forthright abandon, single-minded in his hatred of Spaniards, the British, Indians and the Washington elite. He can't be tied down to the love of his life, Rachel (Maya Michal Sherer), who he takes on in a bigamist marriage. He's committed to his wild frontier form of populism which combines extreme nationalism with a hatred of the establishment
He'll take on President Monroe (Rae Cofsky), John C. Calhoun (Nick Mandracchia), John Quincy Adams (Gabriel J. Thomas) and Henry Clay (Rachael Richman). A very fey Martin Van Buren (Chris Morrell) will become his lackey and Vice President. When Rachel dies, Jackson becomes obsessed with becoming President, forming the Democratic Party and winning the election of 1828. But it's not all fun and games in the Oval Office as he runs up against powerful enemies in Congress and the Supreme Court. His shoot and grab philosophy that won him the most land in US history doesn't apply anymore.
The score is raucous and in your face, from the opening ensemble number "Populism (Yea, Yea)" to the weird blood-letting ritual between Rachel and Andrew in "Illness As a Metaphor" to the sad "Ten Little Indians" counting down the numbers of Native Americans betrayed by Jackson. With a tiny band, musical director Armando Fox provides the steady beat that drives this production.
Exactly what to make of Jackson's legacy is up to you to decide. Similarities to Trump's supposed populism versus say a Bernie Sanders are evident. Segregating out the foreigners and images of genocide a no-brainer throughout American history. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson's story needs to be told, not quite as eloquently as a Hamilton, but relevant all the same.
Photos by Jay Yamada