‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’ a delightful parody
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org October 9, 2012 12:26AM
Matthew Holzfeind (front) stars as Andrew Jackson in Bailiwick Chicago’s production of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” | Photo by Michael Brosilow
‘BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON’
When: Through Nov. 10
Where: Bailiwick Chicago Theater at National Pastime Theater, 941 W. Lawrence
Tickets: $25-$30; free on Election night (Nov. 6 at 9 p.m.) with proof you voted
Updated: November 11, 2012 6:07AM
‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” the knock ’em, rock ’em musical bursting with frontier energy and up-to-the-minute political punch, will never be mistaken for an advanced placement high school class in American History. But it’s a good bet that after a field trip to this show — now receiving a blissfully irreverent, wholly electrifying Chicago premiere by Bailiwick Chicago Theater — even ordinarily indifferent students might enthusiastically begin to dive into such serious tomes as Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Age of Jackson,” or more recent histories by Jon Meacham or Robert V. Remini.
As it turns out, this playful pop culture parody of the rise and fall and profoundly troubling legacy of our seventh president — the work of Michael Friedman (music and lyrics) and Alex Timbers (book) — has a whole lot of spikey brain power behind it. While “Spring Awakening” captured Central Europe in the late 19th century by setting the period to an anachronistic rock beat, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” does something of the same thing for early 19th century America.
“You can’t shoot history in the neck!” proclaims one of the show’s characters. But of course that is precisely what this 100-minute musical — part cartoon, part satire, part vaudeville, part punk party and part blistering critique of America’s bloody past — manages to do. It’s all in good fun, but with just enough darkness to leave a knife wound in your skull.
The super-ingenious director, Scott Ferguson — in league with choreographer Christopher Pazdernik, a cast of galvanic young talent led by Matt Holzfeind (a terrific singer, actor and guitar-playing renegade as Jackson), a fabulous onstage band led by James Morehead, and a dynamite design team — keeps the storytelling in high-drive. And the wonderfully varied score sets the ideal mood for each scene — from Jackson’s Tennessee youth, to his twisted obsession with the Indian “threat,” to his ferocious battle against the Spanish, British and French, to his loathing of Eastern establishment types (including George Washington), to his defeat in a “stolen” election, to the loss of his neglected wife, to his appeal to “the common man,” to his complete and total frustration with trying to govern. Does any of this sound familiar?
To the hugely demanding role of Jackson, Holzfeind, lean, craggy-faced and droll, brings just the right charismatic edge — moving from bratty baby, to angry teen, to man of destiny, to impatient “democrat,” to vaguely haunted past-president. Samantha Dubina brings heat to the role of Rachel, Jackson’s very unhappy wife. Female soloist Jill Sesso does a riveting job with “Ten Little Indians,” while Hannah Corneau and Brittany Townsley are Jackson groupies, and join in the elaborate number called “The Corrupt Bargain,” in which John Calhoun (Mark Lebeau), John Quincy Adams (Tanner Smale) and Henry Clay (Varris Holmes) conspire to keep Jackson from winning the presidency on his first try. Harter Clingman is a lively Martin Van Buren, Jackson’s right-hand man (and successor), with Kyle A. Gibson as James Monroe. Judy Lea Steele is the eccentric school teacher-like storyteller, and Luke Emano is the Indian boy the unpredictable Jackson adopts as a baby.
The band is a crucial part of the action here, with Matt Deitchman on guitar and trombone, boyish Patrick Rooney a standout as “male soloist” and second guitarist, Cody Goose Siragusa on bass and Lindsay Williams on drums.
Jeff Dublinske’s exemplary sound design, and the performers’ exceptionally sharp diction, make the lyrics pop. Nick Sieben’s ideally rough-hewned set (expertly lit by Mac Vaughey), suggests a raw and ratty, rock club spiced up by Kate Setzer Kamphausen’s Forever 21-style costumes.
To echo the show’s opening song: “Populism, Yea, Yea!” (But think before you vote.)