Considering that it’s celebrating 30 years of presenting the most unorthodox theater in town, and given the fact that our country is currently in the midst of the usual contentious presidential race, the Phoenix Theatre, led by producing director Bryan Fonseca, has made a splendid choice in choosing “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” to kick off its newest season. The show opened Thursday, Sept. 20 and continues through Sunday, Oct. 21 at the Phoenix’s home in Indianapolis’ downtown cultural district.
A rock musical, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman and book by Alex Timbers, premiered on Broadway in 2010. An outrageous satirical comedy, the show is about Andrew Jackson, our nation’s seventh president, seen here as a charismatic rock star and the founder of the Democratic Party.
It explores Jackson’s early life growing up in Tennessee; those events which influenced him as a young adult; his bigamist relationship with his wife, Rachael; his presidency, which saw the emergence of populism; and the Indian Removal Act. At the end of the show, Jackson’s legacy, which saw him as either one of the country’s greatest presidents or an “American Hitler,” is reviewed.
Ultimately, the show succeeds at showing us the parallels between the political process then and now, which relate to the cost of hubris and greed; the fickleness of the electorate, which reflects both the best and the worst of human nature; the need for educating oneself about the issues and exerting due diligence on a candidate; and finally, the critical importance of becoming involved in the public debate.
Be forewarned: This is not family friendly fare. Lots of f-bombs and other expletives worthy of “South Park” were thrown about in this laugh fest, which was also filled with sexual content and violence (hence the “Bloody” in the show’s title). However, if you are adventurous, politically minded, love irony and enjoy your humor deliciously unabashed, raw and just plain silly, this show is definitely for you.
Directed by Fonseca, the show starred Eric J. Olson in a rollicking performance as Andrew Jackson and featured a vibrant, gifted cast of both familiar and new faces in an ensemble which included Phillip Armstrong, Thomas Cardwell, Abigail Gillan, Scot Greenwell, Andrea Heiden, Danny Kingston, Peter Scarbrough, Lincoln Slentz, Phebe Taylor, Arianne Villareal, Clair Wilcher and Rex Wolfley.
Also acting as a storyteller on stage was the outstanding band led by Phoenix resident composer and sound designer Timothy Brickley, with David Langfitt on bass guitar and Matthew Price on drums.
Sexily swaggering about the stage, Olson played the charismatic, egomaniacal Jackson as a preening rock god with exuberant gusto and bravado. Joined by the ensemble, all of them versatile actors who switch characters at the drop of a hat, Olson et al. tell the story of Jackson’s life through a series of sketches.
Replete with inventive stage business and physical comedy, these fractured vignettes would have made history much more interesting, not to mention entertaining, for most of us had it been taught in the campy and irreverent, yet meaningful, manner in which it’s recounted here.
Demonstrating strong vocals, overseen by Brickley and Kevin Smith, Olson and company showed they could also move well as they danced to Mariel Greenlee’s imaginative choreography in such numbers as “Populism, Yea, Yea!,” “I’m So That Guy,” “Rock Star,” “Crisis Averted” and “The Hunters of Kentucky.”
During one scene towards the end of the show, in which Jackson reflects on the good and bad of his legacy, the tragic ramifications of the Indian Removal Act that he signed into law were sadly illustrated. In the song “Second Nature,” one of the show’s most powerful and serious moments, the infamous Trail of Tears was depicted in a simply-staged tableau of ensemble members playing Indians on the forced march.
Presented as a rock concert, the lightning-fast pace was enhanced by Laura Glover’s lighting design and Nick Hargrove’s sound design, both of which provided the show with the high energy and dynamic qualities associated with such events.
Responsible for the show’s lighthearted Wild West atmosphere, which went well beyond the Phoenix stage area and into the house, is Ashley Kiefer’s witty era-mixing costume designs and props as well as scene designer Gordon Strain’s two-level saloon-esque set, decorated with red, white and blue bunting, wagon wheels, mounted game heads, period light fixtures and other paraphernalia.
Following its critically and commercially successful 2011-2012 season, it appears that the Phoenix may well be continuing its momentum with “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” the kind of thought-provoking, timely theater that only they can do. It’s another hit to add to a string of those going all the way back to 1983-1984.
For more information about the Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” call (317) 635-7529 or visit www.phoenixtheatre.org.
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