Many, many, (many) years ago, I had a girlfriend who loved horror movies. Our usual date was to go see such movies at the Culver Theatre. I remember seeing such movies as Halloween and Friday the 13th on their first release there. Why do I mention this (after all, the horrorfest (the movies, not the girl) was back in my undergraduate days)?
The answer is simple. Today, I returned to the Culver Theatre to see another bloody, bloody production. Of course, the Culver Theatre is no longer called the Culver — it is now the Kirk Douglas Theatre (part of Center Theatre Group), and the production wasn’t a movie but the stage production of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” (Myspace Page).
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” tells the story of our 7th president, Andrew Jackson, using the rock/emo musical style of “Spring Awakening”. The book (by Alex Timbers) isn’t your typical biographical musical, with the songs advancing the story, with a true love story interwoven throughout, and a happy ending. This was a rock-style “in your face” musical, with microphones and a rock band on stage, featuring a twenty-something Andrew Jackson emoting throughout, cutting himself and his wife when times got tough, with lots of death and staged violence. There was lots of emphasis on Jackson’s populism, his interactions with the Washington Elite (Madison, Calhoun, JQ Adams) as well as an obviously fey Martin Van Buren. But the title really gives the emphasis of the play: the bloodiness that ran thoughout his life, especially with respect to his relationship with Native Americans. Jackson was an Indian-fighter, if not outright Indian-killer, throughout his rise through the Army, especially in battles with the Cree and the Seminole. It is Jackson upon who the credit — and the blame — for the Trail of Tears. There’s lots of profanity (although arguably, that was Jacksonesque, as he was known as being coarse).
The music and lyrics (written by Michael Friedman) is definately emo-rock. The program doesn’t list song titles, but I do know that some of the songs include “Populism Yea Yea”, “Life Sucks”, and “Ten Little Indians” (all available from the musical’s MySpace page). The style and the tone of these songs really describe the musical. Hell, even the CTG page says about the musical, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson redefines America’s seventh president, a pioneer of humble stock who invented the Democratic Party, moved Indians west, and played a kick-ass guitar.”
Here is a You-Tube video with some show clips to give you an idea of the show:
I walked out the musical undecided about it. It wasn’t the staging that bothered me — I don’t mind innovative staging. Perhaps it was the language — again, I don’t mind coarse, but this seemed gratuitous. Perhaps it was that there were moments that seemed, perhaps, just too cute, too played for the effect it would give. I don’t fault the actors here — this is a writing thing — and I hope that it is something that improves as this musical matures and grows. I think it does portray Jackson as an interesting character, and perhaps leads folks to think about the presidents we often don’t think about (most folks don’t think about #6-#13). I’ll also note that the parallels between Jackson’s time and our present time are often quite eeery.
The acting on this was excellent, although on a few songs the singing started weak. In the title role of the bad-ass Andrew Jackson was Benjamin Walker*. Other cast members, who formed the ensemble as well as playing the indicated parts, were Anjali Bhimani* (Rachel Jackson), Will Collyer*, Diane Davis* (Elizabeth), Zack DeZon, Erin Felgar*, Kristin Findley, Jimmy Fowlie, Patrick Gomez, Sebastian Gonzalez* (Lyncoya), Will Greenberg* (Clay), Greg Hildreth* (Red Eagle), Brian Hostenske* (Van Buren), Adam O’Byrne* (Calhoun), Matthew Rocheleau* (John Quincy Adams), Ben Steinfeld* (Monroe), Ian Unterman* (Defense Attorney), and Taylor Wilcox (Storyteller). The on-stage music was led by Gabriel Kahane, with Charlie Rosen (Bass Guitar), Mike Schadel (Drums), and Ben Steinfeld.
The stage (set design by Robert Bill) was set up in a very eclectic fashion, but utilized the small space well. Lighting (design by Jeff Croiter) was very rock-ish. Choreography was by Kelly Devine, costumes by Emily Rebholz, sound by Bart Fasbender, and projections by Jake Pinholster. The overall production was directed by Alex Timbers, with production stage management by David S. Franklin, Elizabeth Atkinson, and Michelle Blair. The production continues at the Kirk Douglas until February 16.
As for us, the next show on the theatre calendar is “Orson’s Shadow” at the Pasadena Playhouse on 2/9 @ 8pm. On February 16, we’re seeing “1776” at Actors Co-Op (with shutterbug93). The weekend of March 6-8 we’ll likely see “Grease” at Van Nuys High. Also sometime in March will be “W;t” at REP East (it runs 3/7 through 4/5). March 15 brings “Jekyll & Hyde” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, followed the next day by “Sweeney Todd” at the Ahmanson. That’s our current 1Q08 in theatre, as we know it now.