BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON rocks at Beck
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)
Several weeks ago a study listed George W. Bush among the worst presidents of the United States. Also on that list was Andrew Jackson. However, in contrast to Bush, Jackson was also on the roll of the best presidents. That dichotomy is well noted in BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, now rocking the Studio Theatre at The Beck Center for the Arts.
Jackson, known as The Common man’s President, unified the country. He did so through a bloody reign of terror in which he slaughtered and dealt devilishly with his hated enemies: the Indians (who killed his parents), the British, the Spanish and the Washington politicians. He was a drunk, bigamist, and undisciplined man. He has sometimes been noted as the American Hitler due to his maniacal obsessions.
After being denied the presidency by the Supreme Court after winning the popular vote, in an incident similar to the Bush-Gore saga, Jackson became possessed. Four years later Jackson founded the Democratic party and could not be denied. He took over the White House, opened its doors to the multitudes, turned the lawns into grazing areas for livestock, and generally ruled in organized chaos.
BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, as written by Alex Timbers, with words and music by Michael Friedman, is an audacious, irreverent rock musical which was a hit off-Broadway, and paints the picture with modern references, including the presence of electronics (cell phones, Ipads, head sets), lots of hard rock music, imaginative if not always accurate historical references, and lots of swearing, blood and guts. Though there are some weaknesses in the script, the production more than compensates for that.
Director Scott Spence puts aside all inhibitions and gives free range to filling the stage with visual and audible pyrotechnics.
Choreographer Martin Céspedes uses the foot stomping dance moves of the prairie as the basis for his creative choreography. Like Jackson himself, the dancing is not coordinated, but a creative use of impromptu movements. Céspedes incorporates a sequence of dynamic fight moves, has the musicians high stepping, and creates a dervish of visual treats. The song The Corrupt Bargain leaps off the stage.
Larry Goodpaster and Dennis Yurich’s musical direction is the foundation on which the production is built. The band, Yurich, Ingrid Lang and Jason Giaco, supported by various cast members, is musically dynamic. They would have made a great rock concert in and of themselves.
Trad Burns’ set design, an amalgamation of old suitcases, picture frames, newspapers, guns, and levels, creates the perfect working space for the actions.
The cast is multi-talented. At one point all of the assemblage plays guitars, sings and dances, with proficiency and abandonment.
Dan Folino, in the title role, is nothing short of perfection. He sings with full voice, his rock style is well honed, he creates a clear character, and transitions well between segments. It’s worth seeing the show just to experience the Folino magic in action.
Hester Lewellen is a hoot as the old lady storyteller, zipping around the stage in a battery operated wheel chair. Trey Gilpin is delightful as a fey Martin VanBuren. Chris McCarrell, playing one mean guitar, displays a great vocal in Second Nature. Gilgamesh Tagget has some great moments as the Indian chief, Black Fox. Elliot Lockshine is endearing as Lycoya, Jackson’s adopted Indian son. The chorus is vocally and performance strong.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Though not for everyone due to the pounding music and uncensored language, BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, is one exciting and well conceived show. In my mind, it’s a sure MUST SEE!