Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
by John Stoltenberg
A totally infectious sense of high-spirited freedom sweeps up the audience even before this brilliant Studio Theatre production begins. The talented young cast sings, plays, and dances us into a Hair-like countercultural frenzy with a pounding rock score. From start to finish, this show is an amped-up entertainment, yet it unfolds a true tale with very unsettling politics. “Unsettling” in that sentence is a punning euphemism, for what Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson exposes is the ruthless removal of Native Americans by our seventh president, whom it dubs, without much hyperbole, “America’s Hitler.” In this context, stark black-and-white onscreen projections of suburban housing projects become shocking reminders that all this developed real estate was once another people’s homeland.
I used to enjoy musical theater more when I was young than I generally do now. In high school (a very long time ago) I played trumpet in the pit orchestra for Carousel and Guys and Dolls, and I fell in love with the form. I collected recordings of musicals, back when they were on LPs. More recently, though, I thought Wicked was a yawn, and Phantom of the Opera a prorape potboiler.
I now come alive as an audience member when musical theater turns over a rock to reveal a political dark side of society. Urinetown stuck it to corporate capitalism. Caroline, or Change shone a light on the lives of African Americans who served white families. True to Victor Hugo, the musical Les Misérables, at its heart, honored revolutionaries (albeit with such a lush score that bourgeois audiences were never ruffled). And Who’s Your Baghdaddy?, a musical that premiered in the Capital Fringe Festival a year ago, about the ruse that resulted in our going to war in Iraq, remains the very best political theater I’ve ever seen.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson now qualifies as another personal fave. It’s a bloody good musical—just the way I like it.