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Review: 'Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson'

September 26, 2012

 

Okay, so “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” has many jokes that miss. Its book meanders. Its characters aren’t always consistent. Too often, it underlines messages that have already been more creatively delivered elsewhere in the show.

And, as presented by the Phoenix Theatre (through Oct. 21), it still manages to be one of the most entertaining musicals I’ve seen in a long while. Don’t be surprised if you can’t get in because of sold-out shows partially populated by people seeing it two or three times.

It’s thrilling to see a musical done well. It’s even more thrilling to see a musical done well for an audience that, for the most part, is completely unfamiliar with the material.

That’s the case with “BBAJ.” Yes, it’s a chronicle of the life and works of our 7th president, but it tells that story filtered through contemporary sensibilities, attitudes and tunesmithing. Along the way, it throws in the audiences’ faces the downside of populism, asking the question: Do you really want a President who truly represents the American people? 

I’m not sure of the mental state of the producers who thought this would work on Broadway (where it ran for only about three months in 2010). The Phoenix, and other small theaters like it, is where this show belongs. Here, on a salon set festooned with taxidermied creatures and a tacky chandelier, we get Jackson’s youth, his realization that he’s the guy who can change the country, the down and up of both his failed and his successful run for Commander in Chief, and a visit to the Jackson White House where a bong-hitting Native American and a pair of clueless cheerleaders pass for a cabinet.

Solid directing and restrained choreography certainly make a difference (this isn’t the kind of show when the beginning of a dance should seem obvious). So does the uniformly fine cast, who are given plenty of room for silliness but never upstage the Pres, played charismatically—and well sung—by Eric Olson.

But the star of the “BBAJ” is the music. Apart from the seemingly endless “Ten Little Indians” number, song after song rocks in creative, fun ways. Tim Brickley’s on stage band handles the chores with gusto. And composer/lyricist Michael Friedman gets that if we are going to care what happens to this guy, he’s going to have to be, as one song blatantly says, a rock star. And a genuine one, not a Broadway-lite one.

Add in a kicking curtain-call song (“The Hunters of Kentucky”) and it adds up to a show well worth a repeat visit. I’d certainly go again, but I wouldn’t want to take your seat.

If there’s any justice in America, there won’t be many at the Phoenix to spare.

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