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Not So Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

July 17, 2012

The year was 2006 when Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a musical about the United State's bullish seventh president was first developed.

The piece was workshopped by the New York-based experimental company Les Freres Corbusier in August 2006 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and in May 2007 at the New 42nd Street Studios, New York. It premiered in January 2008 in Los Angeles at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, in a production by the Center Theatre Group.

All of the excitement about the show was building, in other words, when George W. Bush was U.S. President. And I can imagine that for those early audiences, witnessing the first full scale production in LA in an election year after two terms of Bush, the show must have been extremely pungent.

Jackson is portrayed in the work, which was created by Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers, as a swaggering pirate, who is as trigger-happy as he is a man of the people. The parallels between the man who was in office in 2008, who shared Jackson's traits of being both a war monger and a "down home, regular guy," and the portrayal of Jackson in the musical, must have hit home.

When the ensemble sings the number "Populism" near the start of the show, 2008 audiences were very likely tapping their feet and nodding their heads not just as a result of the rhythm but also because of the sense of recognition. Clearly, they must have thought, this country has been here before.

After four years of Obama, who can neither truly be regarded as a populist nor a warmonger (at least, nowhere near on the same scale as Dubya) Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson simply doesn't carry the same weight.

The production which opened at Washington DC's Studio Theatre on Sunday night is beautifully put together, with sharp performances from the talented ensemble cast led by a charismatic Heath Calvert. But it honestly feels a little passe.

This isn't simply the result of the political moment being over. From an aesthetic perspective, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson seems very 2008. With its rampaging indie rock music score and sexy hipster cast members with spiky hairdos and tight jeans, it resembles other hit musicals of the period like American Idiot and Spring Awakening.

There will no doubt come a time in US political history, perhaps in the fairly near future, when this musical will strike a chord once again. But even though a lot of the action in the piece takes place in our nation's capital and we're in an election year, this isn't the moment for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson to shake its fists and snarl in DC.


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