It's kind of hard to describe the new musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (book by Alex Timbers with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman), but only because it's such a phantasmagorical journey through the life and presidency of Andrew Jackson. Parts of it are downright hilarious, while others are amazingly informative. Kind of like what Bill Cosby used to say during the opening credits of The Fat Albert Show: "If you're not careful, you might learn something before it's done". New Line's current presentation of this wild and woolly excursion into history is a rockin' riot, filled with catchy tunes and funny, anachronistic humor that rarely misses the mark.
A narrator, who's eventually shot by the soon to be president, introduces us to Jackson as a child who lost both parents to illness, but soldiered on nonetheless. How history will remember him is a conundrum; will he be revered for the enormous expansion he brought to this young nation, or will be be reviled for his violent tendencies, which led to the Native American's forced march known as the "Trail of Tears". It's hard to say. Both are true of a man who was a bigamist, and a populist president who railed against corruption in Washington. In any event, it's a colorful and engaging tale guaranteed to delight even the most jaded theatre-goer.
John Sparger is marvelous as Jackson, commanding the stage with his considerable presence. His voice is strong throughout, and he's backed up by a terrific supporting cast that all play multiple roles. Brian Claussen amuses as Martin Van Buren, while Nicholas Kelly is sympathetic as the much put upon Chief Black Fox. Amy Kelly is also funny as the narrator, who comes back from the dead on more than one occasion to enlighten and inform.
The rest of the cast deserves kudos for their energetic and enthusiastic portrayals and includes: Stephanie Brown (Lyncoya), Mike Dowdy (James Monroe), the always riotously funny Zachary Allen Farmer (John Quincy Adams), Todd Micali ("Rock Star"), Taylor Pietz (Rachel Jackson), BC Stands (John Calhoun), Sarah Porter and Chrissy Young (cheerleaders).
Scott Miller's impeccable direction mines the material for a plethora of laughs, and he keeps the frenetic action moving along at a brisk, highly watchable pace. Nicholas Kelly's fight choreography adds to the excitement, while Amy Kelly's costumes have a keen eye for the period, while retaining many humorous touches. Scott Schoonover's scenic design is properly rustic and well lit by Kenneth Zinkl.
The band, who double for Jackson's cabinet at one point is also top notch. Justin Smolik conducts and plays piano, while D. Mike Bauer tackles the guitar parts and adds a couple of vocals as well. Dave Hall and Clancy Newell handle the rhythm section on bass and drums, respectively.
New Line Theatre's production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson earns my highest recommendation, and it continues through October 20, 2012. This is must-see modern musical theatre at its finest (and weirdest).