'Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson' gives rock opera history lesson

Review: The Red House's 'Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson' offers pertinent satire in the form of fun, self-indulgent rock songs.

Andrew Jackson was a revolutionary leader. He was the first of his kind, a progressive frontiersman with democratic ideas, to be elected to public office. And boy, was his journey interesting. Director Stephen Svoboda and company deliver an exaggerated experience of Jackson’s hassled world with their new production Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.

Jackson predicated his own ambition on the peoples' desire for a voice. That attitude is apparent from the get-go when Brian Detlefs comes on stage and announces, “I’m wearing some tight, tight jeans and tonight we’re delving into some serious, serious shit. I’m Andrew Jackson. I’m your President. Let’s go!” followed by the show's opening number, "Populism, Yea, Yea!"

Photo: Courtesy of the Red House Arts Center
Andrew Jackson (Detlefs) and his wife (Allie Villa) put on a provocative show in the Red House's production of 'Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.'

With music and lyrics by Michael Friedman and book by Alex Timbers Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson uses the life of the United States’ seventh president as the basis for an intelligent and unruly satire of the American condition at the time. The intimacy offered by the Red House Arts Center also "supersizes" an already large show by making it appear bigger, louder and, at times, even more self-indulgent than it actually is.

Detlefs does a fine job in all his rock god glory to tell parts of Jackson’s life story. Chris Baron as Jackson’s Vice President Martin Van Buren is a hilarious companion that produces laughter at every turn. Baron and his political cohort of Henry Clay (Tyler Spicer), James Monroe (Jacob Sharf), John Calhoun (Eric Feldstein) and John Quincy Adams (Ben Wells) nearly bring the entire house down with their performance of “The Corrupt Bargain.”

The production’s band, made up of young musicians led by Patrick Burns, compliments Jackson’s jamming needs perfectly and occasionally participates with, “You’re the President, I agree with you,” when called upon.

One performance that leaves you haunted in your seat is Marguerite Mitchell’s ironic recitation of “Ten Little Indians,” which depicts the tale of Jackson’s uprooting of whole Native Indian tribes and betrayal of his loyal Indian ally, Black Fox (also played by Sharf), for which he hears the charge: American Hitler.

Others worth mentioning include Allie Villa as Rachel Jackson, the President’s provocative wife, and The Storyteller (Tammy Wilkinson) who, even after being shot by Jackson, keeps coming back to add interesting context to all the commotion on stage because, like she points out, "You can't shoot history in the neck!"

All along, the relics are rebellious. The wellborn wear white wigs (gone many decades by Jackson’s time) as well as Elizabethan neck ruffs. British soldiers at the Battle of New Orleans sport Union Jack vests and go into battle sipping tea with one pinky raised. Female staffers wear cheerleader outfits, and the White House’s red telephone is good for ordering pizza.

And this is exactly what the play does successfully – makes us recognize that rough populism is still with us. That’s what makes Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson such a pertinent modern satire.

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