Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
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Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
Blog: Bloody Andrew Jackson
The Broadway stage has seen its fair share of iconic performances during its historic history. Yet taking risk is not something the theatre is always known for. Many plays and musicals deal with topics that are safe and therefore may come off as boring to non-regulars.
But alas, there are still some mavericks out there who want to challenge us when it comes to the theatre. In the late 1990s audiences were given Rent a musical by the late Jonathan Larson. This was the first time the Broadway crowd was shown the face of AIDS. It was a daring and powerful show, winning several Tonys and staying open for over a decade.
Rent showed us that Broadway did not have to be a stuffy, snobby place where the only thing to see were old fashioned performances of The King and I. In recent years, several exciting and dare I say raunchy plays and musicals have opened on the great white way. Avenue Q boasts perverted puppets, Rock of Ages takes you back to the by gone era of 80′s LA hair Metal, and American Idiot gives you a ringside seat to Green Day’s prolific rock opera. This new Broadway tradition of cool shows continues with the rocking, historic spectacle known as, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. You may think that you know a lot about the seventh president of these United States, but after seeing this show you will realize you knew nothing. And that’s a good thing!
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which started as an off Broadway play at New York’s popular Public Theater, is now on Broadway and is garnering some serious critical praise. The play takes place during the 19th Century, the era in which Jackson lived. Unlike several historic plays that have graced the stage, this one avoids all of those boring trappings. In “Andrew Jackson” their are no stuffy monologues that are basically direct quotes from history books. In this play when a character speaks they do it with a vigorous comedic charm. Since this is a musical after many of these verbal exchanges, the characters break out into song. This is truly where the rock element comes alive. A full band joins the cast on stage, and busts out impressive rock numbers that carry the historic story along.
Jackson, played by Benjamin Walker, looks more like an alternative rocker than the historic figure he is emulating. Walker commands the stage with this pretense. But like a real man, we are allowed to see how vulnerable he truly is. This proves that these men who we only know from books and portraits bled and have cried- just like us. The tales revealed about Jackson throughout the play are often quite shocking, even if they are presented in a tongue in cheek type way. For instance, I had not the faintest idea that Jackson was one of the main people to forcefully push the Native Americans into reservations. This was also known as the “Trail of Tears.” Through words and song, Jackson’s struggle with the country he loved, and with himself is revealed- worts and all. Other historic figures such as John Quincy Adams and James Calhoun are featured as antagonists to Jackson. They are brilliantly portrayed as foppish fancy boys, to contrast Jackson’s stripped down every man look. This idea leads to several incidents in the play where Jackson’s life and struggles mirror our present day United States, and our President’s issues with his political adversaries.
There were several stand out performances throughout the show besides Walker’s Jackson. The following two actors really proved they have what it takes to have a long career on stage and whatever else they choose. The show’s narrator, billed as The Storyteller, tickled my funny bone and grabbed at my heart strings. Played by Kristine Nielsen, she portrayed a historian and/or documentary-type talking head. She appeared to suffer from paralysis as she was in a motor wheelchair throughout the show, but whenever a topic needed further explanation, she would wheel herself out and give the audience a pretentious yet hilarious historical accounting. Even though Nielsen’s character is paralyzed, she is required to do plenty of physical comedy which she pulls off brilliantly.
Jeff Hiller has been on the New York acting scene for quite sometime. This writer recalls seeing him at the Upright Citizens Brigade doing a stage version of the classic B-Movie, “Showgirls.” So we are thrilled to see that he has made the leap on to the Broadway stage. And what a leap he has made. In Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Hiller plays an impressive five roles. Each of them are fantastic and quite funny. This guy is someone to watch- he has amazing range.
It must be said however, that this play is not for everyone. Throughout the show there are many loud noises, since prop guns are being fired on stage. Also fair warning to those who are sensitive to vulgarity, there are F bombs dropped the whole time. Needless to say, this is not a show to bring small children or teenagers too. This is a show for adults and a damned funny one at that. It is truly a perfect mixed bag. As an audience member you get an amazing historical account of a legendary man who you may know little about. This may either improve, or hurt your image of him. And of course its funny- very funny- and the music is rocking the entire time. As you leave the theater you will defiantly be humming Populism, Yea Yea to yourself.
Like all good things, they will eventually come to an end. If you have ever wanted to see Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the time is now. The play will close on January 2nd, 2011. So act now. There are tickets still available for the few remaining performances. The cast album is also available is stores everywhere.
- Alan Smithee