The populist president gets even more popular, with expletives!
BY LENISE WILLIS firstname.lastname@example.org
To make the idol-like “people’s president” Andrew Jackson relatable to a young audience, UNCG theatre freshened him up with sex, blood and rock and roll.
The rock-musical Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson takes a whole new look at America’s seventh president, giving him skinny jeans, black eyeliner and a rocker’s attitude.
Written by Alex Timbers, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, the play is a satirical piece about America during the time of western expansion and the Trail of Tears.
Obsessed with killing Indians, Spaniards and British, and telling Washington to “fu*k off,” rock-and-roll Jackson gains the people’s vote by being kick-ass awesome and more relatable, eventually claiming the presidency after his second campaign.
Filing the production under one genre is difficult; it’s a sketch comedy, a satire, a rock concert, a mild history lesson and a gruesome tale of murder, betrayal and genocide.
Directed by Jim Wren, the performance was spot-on and aided by its college-aged actors, who give the production the youthful edge and versatility it requires.
Besides flowing in and out of song, the actors also had to pull off gruesome comedy skits and inappropriate humor.
There were only one or two singers whose pleasant voices rang through the harsh brassiness of rock, but for the most part the songs were a little hard on the ears.
Overall, the sometimes sharp pitches worked well with the production because it put more of the focus on the edgy high energy level and excitement of the singers.
Aaron Brakefield as Andrew Jackson did a superb job portraying both the envisioned cockiness of the ass-kicking president and the more sentimental moments tied to losing his first campaign and his wife.
Torrey Belcher as Black Fox is a strong, physically fit Indian chief who loses his way. His character, who betrays Indians in exchange for helping his own tribe, represents the “relationship,” underhanded deals, and eventually the Great Compromise between Jackson and Native Americans.
Despite the sadness and guilt associated with the topic, Belcher completed the difficult task of making the audience guiltily laugh at the tribes’ naïve trust, while at the same time re-thinking the integrity of one of their nation’s great leaders.
Guiding the audience through the play is a storyteller, performed by Miranda Notus, who added most of the laughs and historical notes to the story. Gliding across the scenes on an electric-powered wheelchair, Notus was the highlight of the comedic action with her nerdy commentary, exaggerated facial expressions and eventual untimely, violent and hilarious death.
A brief mention is also necessary for the adorable child actor Ellie Cauthen, who plays Jackson’s “adopted” son Lyncoya, and the actors of stuck-up and dimwitted Washington: Martin Tylicki (John Quincy Adams), David Coolidge (Monroe), Bradley Egan (Clay), Max Kirkham (Calhoun) and Rosser Lamason (Van Buren).
As for the set, scenic designer Matthew Sale used large posters above the stage and around the audience to mix the occasionally traditional with the obscure.
Depictions of Indian chiefs and an old-fashioned sketch of Andrew Jackson portray the classic, but are heavily outweighed with a “zombie Jackson” drawing and a poster of lips literally dripping with the American Flag. The main stage’s set is a crowded and versatile one to work with the play’s musical numbers, comedy skits and historical replays. A conveyor belt to the right of the stage adds comedy to characters’ “exits” after they’re shot in the throat or surprised by an arrow.
Metal wire fences on each side give the stage the appearance of a rock concert and fans begging to be backstage. The actors banging and cheering behind them instantly gives Jackson the appearance of a celebrity.
Overall, the college performance of the musical is well executed and is so bizarre it’s a must-see for history buffs and the historically stupid alike, rock lovers, and generally anyone who considers himself cool.
The musical first premiered in New York in 2009 and is the winner of the Outer Critics Circle Award (2010 Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical) and the Drama Desk Award (2010 Outstanding Book of a Musical).
UNCG’s Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson premieres for only two more nights. Performances are in the Taylor Theatre, 406 Tate St., on UNCG’s campus Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. For tickets visit http://euc.uncg.edu/box-office/ or call 336.334.4849. Play is not recommended for anyone under the age of 17.