Even though “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” played on Broadway a short 120 days, it managed to attract the attention of New Orleanians Lucas and Megan Harms. Former founding members of Fourfront Productions, the Harmses had been looking to see another musical, but when they got to the front of the line at the TKTS booth it was one of only a few choices remaining. They took a chance and by the second song of this rock musical written by Alex Timbers with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, they were hooked.
When the rights to “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” became available for the first time a few months back, they took another chance, but this time they did so with eyes wide open. They formed a new production company appropriately named Harms Way Productions and arranged to mount their first presentation in the city that knows Jackson as “the hero of the Battle of New Orleans.”
With Lucas Harms in the starring role of Andrew Jackson, the emo rock spectacle is being shown at Mid City Theatre through November 3. The set design by Kevin Griffith with props designed by Michael Krikorian is the most massive to take over the Mid City stage and filled with peculiar references to modern day politics.
This is a pivotal role for Harms, who has not been on stage since his leading role in “Curtains!” at Rivertown Repertory two years ago. It reestablishes him as a leading man and an intense actor whose skill set includes powerful singing and a charismatic stage presence. There is little doubt that Harms plays the role of Andrew Jackson as Timbers and Friedman had intended. He is a stubborn, self-possessed and egotistical opportunist, whose personal ambitions may or may not coincide with what his electorate wants. In short he is a politician.
Timbers’ book is peppered with anachronisms that are intended to allow a modern audience to appreciate a man who fought the British, the Spanish and Native Americans will equal antipathy (“Populism, Yea, Yea!”). “Even the land that isn’t our land will one day be our land,” he pronounces after both his parents and others die either from cholera or Indian attacks.
In “I’m Not That Guy,” Jackson shouts that he is not prepared to take up the challenge – someone else should carry the day. But only a short time later, shaped by the events of his life, he announces in another song “I’m So That Guy” to the cheers of his admirers. Later, when everyone is against him, he protests with a line that recalls both the bravado of both Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. “You obviously don’t understand the nuances of consolidated executive power,” he declares.
Directed by A.J. Allegra, this is a true ensemble cast with most members playing multiple roles with the exception of Harms. Even the leading lady, Leslie Limberg, who plays Jackson’s beleaguered wife Rachel, turns in several performances in supporting roles. Limberg is a standout in her role in more ways than one. Her ample charms are magnified in the costumes designed by Katie Gelfand and her voice soars in her several solos as Rachel.
The cast is absolutely splendid with terrific performances turned in by Bill Mader as Black Fox and Henry Clay, Abbey Peterson Murrell as the Storyteller, Bob Murrell as John C. Calhoun and Keith Claverie as Martin van Buren and Chief Keokuk. Other supporting cast members are Michael Kirkorian as Red Eagle and James Monroe, Price Provenzano as a cobbler and John Quincy Adams as well as Brittany Chandler and Allee Peck. Young Aaron Richert also plays Lyncoya, an orphaned Native American child whom Jackson raises as his own.
The musicians consisting of guitarist Steven Kennedy, percussionist Travis Henthorn, bassist Jon Mannino and keyboard player Kyle Bolme are seen on stage at at times. Their play is also quite good and, occasionaly, the so-called fourth wall is broken as they are incorporated into the action on stage. Natalie True serves as music director.
The problem with “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” is in its attempt to impose modern politics on the past and accuse and indict figures based on the mores of our own times. Jackson was in many ways a reactionary to the times in which he lived. He was robbed of his first presidential election by the powers that be who installed John Quincy Adams as the nation’s chief executive. The United States was very young and, compared to other nations like England and Spain, weak. A strong populist leader like Jackson, who founded the Democratic Party, was necessary to inspire America and to pave the way for westward expansion. That he was responsible for the slaughter of tens of thousands of Native Americans, ignored Supreme Court’s rulings and was a bully are historic facts. Yet in his own time he was assailed a hero. The lens of this history lesson is somewhat sullied and its frank and sometimes profane language should not be intended for young children. Even the producers decided not to hold matinees for this show as a result.
The pace of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” is fast and furious. It is at times campy and at other times raucous, but thoroughly entertaining. Lighting by Su Gonczy and sound design by Mike Harkins also add to the experience in several ways.
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” runs for two more weekends at Mid City Theatre, 3540 Toulouse Street. For tickets call the theater box office from 2:00-6:00 p.m. at 504-488-1460.