Rowdy, outrageous, exhilarating, brash, and entertaining as all get-out—Chance Theater’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is all this and more, a slice of American history as told by a wild and crazy bunch of punk rockers that will have you cheering … and send you straight to Wikipedia to separate fact from fiction re our 7th President, “Old Hickory” himself.

Created by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson had its 2008 premiere at L.A.’s Kirk Douglas Theater before heading first to off-Broadway, then to Broadway, and now back to Southern California where director Kari Hayter, choreographer Kelly Todd, musical director Robyn Wallace, and a cast of some of SoCal’s most exciting triple-threats have joined forces to create the Orange County Musical Theater Event of the Summer ‘13.

Jackson004 Director Hayter and company set Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’s irreverent tone from the get-go, as a dozen head-bangers in retro-punk garb raise their rock-star voices to sing the praises of “Populism, Yea, Yea!”, “cause it’s the early 19th century. We’ll take the land back from the Indians. We’ll take the land back from the French and Spanish and other people in other European countries and other countries too … and also other places,” since after all, “we’re pretty sure it’s our land anyway.”  (Could it get any cheekier?)

Timber’s book then flashes us back to Jackson’s boyhood home in the Tennessee hills, where it doesn’t take long for Indian arrows or cholera or a combination of both to take the lives of Andrew’s father, mother, and the local shoe cobbler, leaving young Andrew without parents (though fortunately not without footwear), untimely demises that plant in our future President’s head the idea that unwanted Native Americans (and Spaniards and Frenchmen) ought to be driven from our lands, even if that means exterminating each and every one of them (or something on that order).

Jackson001 Along the way we meet Andrew’s future bride Rachel, who’s not about to let her marital status prevent her from wedding young Andrew, bigamy charges be damned; old-school political leaders John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Martin Van Buren, justifiably concerned that Jackson’s aim to acquire more and more Indian land for the US of A may not be quite moral, ethical, or legal; Indian chief Black Fox, Jackson’s onetime ally turned enemy; and Lyncoya, the Creek Indian orphan who became our future President’s adopted son.

Jackson009 We also learn of Jackson’s unsuccessful first attempt at the Presidency (despite winning both the electoral and popular vote), his surprise second candidacy four years later, and his post-election victory campaign to increase the power of the Presidency, screw checks and balances. Finally, we see Jackson’s Indian Removal Act become law, “removing” tens of thousands of American Indians from their homelands and forcing them west on what’s come to be known as their death-plagued “Trail Of Tears.”

And lest you fear the boredom of your average, everyday high school history class, Timbers’ hilariously cocky book and Friedman’s equally sassy songs make sure that the next laugh (or gasp) is never far away. A guitar-picking Rachel strums that “I always thought I’d live in a house with a dog and some kids and some slaves, a mat at the door that said welcome, a sign on the fence that says ‘Private home, don’t enter.’” Andrew serenades his bride, “If you feel like you might throw up, well that’s a metaphor for how I feel when I dream of you.” Our hero asks the show’s Bandleader, in lyrics most definitely not for the kiddies, “Would you like to see my stimulus package? I’m gonna fill you with Popula-jizz-m.”

Jackson0013 Add to this irreverence one sing-along melody after another and the cast’s rock concert-worthy vocals backed up by Wallace on keyboard, Gasper Gray on guitar, Bill Strongin on bass, and Steven Wagner on drums, and you’ve got ninety minutes of high-energy musical theater that will leave you begging for more.

If ever there were a collaborative Chance Theater musical, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is that show, director Hayter’s inspired vision blending seamlessly with Todd’s punk-slash-Broadway choreographic moves, Wallace’s sensational music direction, Steve Giltner’s visually explosive lighting design, Carin Jacobs’ funky costumes, and as fine a cast of young musical theater talents as you’ll see all summer if not all year.

Jackson008 As our titular hero/antihero, Keaton Williams makes it three absolutely stellar performances in a mere seven months—Carousel’s Billy Bigalow, Triassic Parq – The Musical’s leading lady/man Velociraptor Of Innocence, and now Bloody Bloody A.J himself, by far his biggest, flashiest role to date—and he’s still got a CSUF senior year of shows ahead of him. Onstage almost throughout, Williams owns every Andrew Jackson moment, belting Friedman’s songs with rock star vocals every bit as impressive as the legit pipes that sang Carousel’s “If I Loved You” and “Soliloquy.”

Supporting Williams is an acting-singing-dancing ensemble every bit the equal of those featured in previous Chance summer hits West Side Story, Jerry Springer: The Opera, and The Who’s Tommy,.

I could easily write a paragraph about each and every ensemble member, though in the interest of brevity, I’ll let you pick among “dynamic,” “sexy,” “high-energy,” “phenomenal,” “original,” “sizzling,” and any other superlative you wish to attach to Nick Adorno as John Quincy Adams, Alex Bueno as The Storyteller and Lyncoya, Kyle Cooper as Martin Van Buren, Gary Fields as John Calhoon, James McHale as James Monroe, Ashley Arlene Nelson as Rachel Jackson, Zachary Storey as Henry Clay, Robert Wallace as Black Fox, and the equally sensational female ensemble—Chelsea Baldree, Dannielle Green, and Janelle Kester—with special snaps to Gray’s double duty as both guitarist and The Bandleader.

Jackson002 Standout solo showcases include Baldree’s “Ten Little Indians,” Gray’s “Crisis Averted,” Nelson’s “The Great Compromise,” and Williams’ just about everything else. And when almost the entire cast come out strumming acoustic guitars to back up Gray’s 11th-hour “Second Nature,” the effect is positively thrilling.

Christopher Scott Murillo’s striking dark-wooded scenic design extends almost all the way into the lobby making it one of the rising design star’s finest sets to date. Dave Mickey and Iris Zacarias have created a sound design that makes Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson sound every bit as great as it looks. David McCormick has created some exciting fight choreography. Kudos too to Richard Ordiano’s prop design and to dramaturg Sophie Cripe for her historical research.

Rachel Jimenez is assistant director and Masako Tobaru production manager and technical director.  Chance Theater dynamic duo Courtny Greenough and Tanae Beyer are stage managers, Teodora Ramos master carpenter, and Dayne Donnell audio mixer.  Scott & Georgia Well are executive producers.  Larry & Sophie Cripe are associate producers.

Jackson005 Though it may lack the “musical theater classic” status of last year’s West Side Story, or the “rock music legend” cachet of The Who’s Tommy, or the headline-grabbing, picket-inspiring controversy of Jerry Springer: The Opera, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson proves a worthy successor to this triumphant trio of past Chance summer musicals. At the risk of sounding like a Redcoat in describing this very American show, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is bloody bloody brilliant!

The Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills.

–Steven Stanley
July 10, 2013
Photos: Thamer Bajjali, True Image Studio

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.