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Theater Mon Oct 15 2012

Review: Bailiwick Chicago's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

BloodyBloody-1.jpg
Matthew Holzfeind (front, center) as Andrew Jackson with the cast of Bailiwick Chicago's production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

"Bloody rockin' good" is Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which captures the lyrical essence of the seventh United States president -- the first "rock star politician/people's president," a populist, a slave owner, an Indian killer to the point of genocide (making good ol' Andy "America's Hitler") and a bigamist -- two times! But you'd get no apologies for Prez Jackson, he did what he had to do, and that was get rid of Indians by any means necessary, keep the South plentiful with slaves, win the Western territories, kill the Spaniards, and rid the country rule by eastern dandies like that George Washington feller. His plate was full, and he intended on making good on all his promises.

Unfortunately for the future of our young country, he did make good on his promises, which gave us the Clay Amendment, which led to the Civil War (Jackson's threat to the rise of the abolitionist movement was if the abolitionists found success in outlawing slavery, he would personally round up his 200+ slaves, lock them a barn, and burn them alive), making a few friends of Indian chiefs, paying them off, and forcing the tribes off their Eastern lands onto the "Trail of Tears," where tens of thousands of natives perished, with more killed off by "good white men" upon their Western arrival ('cause the President said that the only good Indian was a dead one).

But probably the worst thing Jackson cursed our nation with is the "populist movement," sort of a political "American Idol" where "the people's voices will always be heard" beyond the voting booth. Jackson was hellbent (and is probably there right now) to give Washington to "the people," so much so that at his inauguration banquet, he invited The Public into the White House, and The Public proceeded to participate in such debauchery -- and looting; stealing everything nailed and not-nailed down, including the drapes. President Jackson should have learned something from this -- you can't trust the voters, they're to follow, not lead.

Listening to and taking orders from a fickle and, well, stupid and uneducated electorate turned war hero/frontier tamer Jackson's legacy into the Genocide King. As The Storyteller (Judy Lea Steele) tells Jackson near the end of the play: "Well, you can't shoot history in the back." True dat, we're stuck with history.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a rousing production. The stage band is tight, and its members exchange positions between rockers and actors. Individual performances are engaging and vigorous. Judy Lea Steele does a wonderful job as The Storyteller, moving about the stage in her motorized wheelchair, a lovely reminder of Rocky Horror Picture Show's The Narrator, and as with that role, there's no shaking the wit, warning and "well, tried to tell ya but you shot me" enthusiasm. Matt Hozfeind rocks the vote as "Old Hickory" Andrew Jackson, looking like a cross between Paul Ryan and Billie Joe Armstrong, making for a rockabilly good-news-change-is-gonna-come-just-too-criminally-insane-to-get-it POTUS. Other cast standouts are Varris Holmes as Indian chief sellout Black Box (I'd have like to see more one-on-one between Jackson and Black Box, as the pivotal scene between them is touching and heartfelt) and Samantha Dubina as Rachel Jackson, the can't-hardly-wait wife who wants to stay down on the plantation when DC calls. Her voice holds its own, and the audience interest, when called upon to belt out her side of their marital woes.

BBAJ is not without flaws: a few too many breaks of the fourth wall -- Valtrex jokes, Valley Girl cheerleaders, a telephone and messages from the battlefield and western expansion delivered by email(?) -- yeah, a little too cute. The musical score is delivered like great '90s power pop (think Mr. Big and Extreme), but once the band stops playing and the gals stop singing, like that smell that wafts from a freshly popped bag a'corn, once it's done and gone, nothing lingers. But you'd love to hear it again, if you ever do, just like "More Than Words."

BBAJ is worth the price of admission. Go, and then read John Meacham's Lion, the Andrew Jackson biography, and there'll be no wonder why the seventh POTUS deserved a story set to music.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs through Nov. 10 at the National Pastime Theater, 941 W. Lawrence Ave., directed by Scott Ferguson. Musical Direction by James Morehead. Tickets and more information can be found here.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

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