The Occupy Wall Street spirit of 2011 lives on in 2013 as a dozen-and-a-half phenomenally talented UC Irvine triple-threats give the politics of two centuries ago a thrillingly contemporary feel in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, now in its final performances at UCI’s Claire Trevor Theatre.

_X5P6826 L.A. audiences will remember Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson from its 2008 World Premiere at L.A.’s Kirk Douglas Theater (woefully ignored by dramaturgs Maria Patrice Amon and Leticia C. Garcia in their program notes) before heading first to off-Broadway, then to Broadway, and now to the UCI campus.

_X5P6794 Director-choreographer Myrona DeLaney takes a teens-gone-wild approach to Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s rock bio of our country’s 7th President aka “Old Hickory,” for a production that is every bit as rowdy, outrageous, exhilarating, brash, and entertaining as the Chance Theater’s punk-rock version this past summer.

_X5P6669 DeLaney takes as her inspiration the Occupy [Insert Place] movement that spread across the nation two years ago, and indeed it is possible to imagine her young cast as being identical to those who set up camp on Wall Street or in downtown Los Angeles, especially with a great big “We The People” sign hanging atop scenic designer Andy Broomell’s terrific industrial warehouse set.

The show opens with the entire cast singing 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.”

Clearly, it could hardly get any cheekier than this, and particularly as performed by an energized ensemble encouraged to cast aside all inhibitions and let loose more teen spirit than I’ve seen on any stage in a good long while.

_X5P6625 The musical’s ubiquitous Narrator (Hayley Palmer, in great big nerd glasses) enters on a child’s push scooter, just one of the myriad children’s toys that find their way into DeLaney’s staging. 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 (Conor Bond) 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).

Along the way we meet Andrew’s future bride Rachel (Marlena Mack), 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 (Derrick Gaffney), Henry Clay (Zak Houston), John C. Calhoun (Morgan Hollingsworth), James Monroe (Josh Odsess-Rubin), and Martin Van Buren (Anthony Simone), 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 (and whom DeLaney imagines as lace-collared fops moving to a techno beat and later donning dunce caps for a hilarious “The Corrupt Bargain”); Indian chief Black Fox (Joey Abrego), Jackson’s onetime ally turned enemy; and Lyncoya (Bryce Vaewsorn), the Creek Indian orphan who became our future President’s adopted son.

_X5P7064 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 (and expletive-laden) book and Friedman’s equally sassy songs make sure that the next laugh (or gasp) is never far away. Rachel sings 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 (Cait Scott), 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.”

_X5P6979 Add to this irreverence one sing-along melody after another and the cast’s sensational vocals backed up by “Band Leader” Scott on guitar (and singing with the voice of a veritable rock goddess), “Rock Star” Ryan Schwalm on guitar, musical director extraordinaire Dennis Castellano on piano, Jerry Motto on bass, and Louis Allee you’ve got ninety minutes of high-energy musical theater that will leave you begging for more.

And it’s not just the band who play musical instruments. A terrific “University President” Bree Murphy plays the violin while vocalizing, and Andrew Jackson Bond plays a mean saxophone.

_X5P6308 Throughout the UCI production’s hour and a half, there’s a real sense of “kids playing dress-up,” the cast donning costumes and playing with toys as they might have as tots. Feathered Indian headdresses, children’s archery sets with suction-cup arrows, and tomahawks; cowboy hats and chaps, toy rifles, and stick ponies; 18th-Century French army uniforms with fringy epaulets and Froggy accents to match; British redcoats with three-corner hats; cheerleader outfits and pompoms; contemporary military camouflage jackets … This Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson has got it all.

And what a cast brings all this to life!

As our titular hero, the tall, lanky, dynamic Bond exhibits the charisma, sex appeal, and vocals of a bona fide rock star, and his leading lady Mack simply could not be a more stunning Rachel.

_X5P3066 Gaffney, Hollingsworth, Houston, Odsess-Rubin, and Simone make for a scene-stealing quintet, each more outrageous than the next. Palmer is a non-stop delight as a narrator with more lives than a cat. Vaewsorn couldn’t be more appealing as the spunky Lyncoya. Abrego, Anthony Chan, Anthony Cloyd, Emma DeLaney, Lindsey Iversen, Murphy, and Catherine Nickerson all shine in one cameo role after another, with “Female Vocalist” Amanda Melhuish singing a powerful “Ten Little Indians.”

_X5P3711 Kaitlyn Kaufman’s costumes are imaginative flights of childhood fancy. Kristin Neu’s lighting design has just the right rock concert flash and Matt Glenn’s sound design has just the right rock concert blast. Anne L. Hitt is stage manager.

Spring quarter 2013’s UCI Musical Spring Awakening was awarded a very special Scenie for College/University Production Of The Year and Fall 2013’s follow-up will be hard to top in 2013-2014. You won’t find a more exciting or professionally staged Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson anywhere … and that’s the bloody truth!

UCI Claire Trevor Theatre, UC Irvine Campus, Irvine.

–Steven Stanley
November 14, 2013
Photos: Paul Kennedy

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