‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’ puts rockin’ twist on 7th president
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org October 7, 2012 8:18PM
Matthew Holzfeind stars as Andrew Jackson in Bailiwick Chicago’s production of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. | Michael Brosilow photo
‘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 — 9 p.m. Nov. 6 — with proof you voted)
A $70 “Presidential Pass” has been created for theatergoers who wish to see both “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Assassins” at the Viaduct, 3111 N. Western.
Updated: November 9, 2012 6:03AM
Love him or loathe him (and there is little middle ground), Andrew Jackson — the seventh president of these United States of America, who served in the White House from 1829 to 1837 — radically changed the face of this country.
In many ways, this aggressive, slaveholding frontiersman from Tennessee — a lean, mean machine nicknamed “Old Hickory” — was the early 19th century’s biggest political rock star. He triumphed in crucial battles in the War of 1812, fending off the British. He took a populist stance against the aristocratic “founding fathers” as he led what would become the modern Democratic Party. He dismantled the centralized Second Bank of the United States. He campaigned to abolish the Electoral College. And, oh yes, he also engaged in horrific ethnic cleansing, brutally forcing the relocation of Native American tribes to west of the Mississippi River.
War hero and flamboyant bully. Populist politician as well as master of “the spoils system.” A tall fellow with a craggy face and a shock of red hair. Who better to turn into the subject of a rock musical?
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” with a score by Michael Friedman and a book by Alex Timbers, was in the works for several years before it arrived Off Broadway in 2009 and opened the following year for a brief run on Broadway. The show will open here Monday in a production by Bailiwick Chicago Theatre staged in the aptly historic space of the Preston Bradley Center’s Masonic Hall in Uptown. It is one of three exceptionally quirky and irreverent shows (including “44 Plays for 44 Presidents,” now at the Neo-Futurists, and Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Assassins,” opening Oct. 14 at the Viaduct), that will pave the way to Election Day.
“It all began when I was set up on a professional blind date with writer-director Alex Timbers [who would go on to co-direct ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’], and we met at an East Village cafe,” said Friedman, recalling the genesis of the musical. “I work with the Civilians, an investigative, reality-based company in Brooklyn [which just performed ‘Paris Commune,’ a cabaret take on the 1871 revolt, at BAM], and Alex is fascinated by history, and we started throwing around ideas. As a history and literature major at Harvard I even took a course in Jacksonian America, and when his name came up it just clicked.
“Jackson was the first president not from Virginia or Massachusetts. And he invented most of the ways we think of party politics and political campaigning — taking it right to the people in the way you saw Bill Clinton do at the recent Democratic convention. Of course, we were writing this show when George Bush was president, and we were thinking about people like John McCain and Ronald Reagan, too. Jackson also happened to be the first president with terrific hair. And he was born in a log cabin. So he had all the requirements. On a more serious note, he was on the scene just as America was consolidating its power, and he sensed this country would be a world power.”
Friedman admits there are many anachronisms in the 100-minute show.
“This was a necessity for theatrical purposes and clarity,” he said. “We also left out some truly insane things, like Jackson’s dirty-talking parrot, and the enormous wheel of cheese served at his inauguration.”
Ask the composer-lyricist to devise a name for a rock band Andrew Jackson might have led and Friedman says: “I guess it would be the final song in our show, ‘The Hunter of Kentucky.’ And the sound for the show is in the ‘emo’ or emotional, hardcore punk-rock tradition of the 1980s.”
Scott Ferguson, director of the Bailiwick production, said he would name Jackson’s band the Populists. He also noted that along with his musical director and keyboardist, James Morehead, the band for the show (which features a cast of 14) includes a drummer, a bassist and two actors who also play guitar.
Ferguson admitted he faced competition in securing the rights to “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” but said he had “an in” because he had conceived and directed the hugely popular show “Schoolhouse Rock Live!,” and it has done very well for Music Theatre International, the powerful licensing agency, which also has the rights to “Bloody Bloody.”
“The show unspools in more or less chronological order from Jackson’s boyhood, into his teens, to fighting the British, to his first failed try for the presidency, to the early death of his wife, and on through his successes,” said Ferguson. “He was a maverick, a rebel, an instigator, a go-getter, a man who didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and who came to power when this country was really still in its infancy. Some claim he was our greatest president; others refer to him as ‘the American Hitler.’ ”
Ferguson describes the show (which stars Matthew Holzfeind as Jackson) as being written “like a modern-day vaudeville with a cartoonish, in-your-face style whose music was inspired by the Las Vegas-bred band Panic at the Disco.
“It’s funny, and probably will be offensive to some, but the music is so catchy — a mix of punk and classical musical theater. And our set was designed to look like a diorama that fits right into our theater’s old Masonic Hall architecture — like a history class shadow box.”