Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 9:01 a.m.
The company of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
Photo by Byron Ritter
In his notes for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Minneapolis Musical Theatre artistic director Steven Meerdink mentions the play's tongue-in-cheek style and emo-rocker approach to the divisive seventh president's life and career.
Oh, if only that were actually the case. Instead, this is a messy show that never finds its footing. Some of that is down to the wildly uneven book (from Alex Timbers) and songs (by Michael Friedman), which have a hard time moving beyond the "Andrew Jackson as petulant youth" trope, while struggling to find the right tone when dealing with the president's violent and destructive Native American policies.
Some of it also comes down to the performances and the production itself. Just like the book and music, the company struggles to find either humor or insight in the material. Meanwhile, the whole show has a slapdash quality to it -- and not in a good, raw, punk-rock kind of way.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson promises a quick survey through the life of the man, the first Washington "outsider" to take the top office in the land. His raw, populist brand of politics connected with the people (well, the white males who could vote) of the early 19th century. His expansionist policies as president would recreate the United States, often at the expense of the Native tribes who already inhabited the lands.
That aspect of the show has drawn the ire of Native American activists, including a group protesting the production opening night. While the current version of the play deals with some of their complaints, it's tough to present an anything-goes, South Park-style satire about genocide.
That leads to a book and set of songs that never finds its footing. It doesn't help that the score rarely engages. It sounds much more like Friedman's perception of punk rock than actual real-life punk rock.
The musical performances don't do the material any favors. Unless your name is Jack White, Jon Spencer, or Sleater-Kinney, you are going to have a hard time playing hard-charging rock without a bass player. The lack of any kind of bottom from the three-piece band robs the music of any kind of drive.
As Jackson, Philip C. Matthews works to give his character some depth, showing us an emotionally stunted man who finds himself lost when he becomes the most powerful politician in the land. Christian Unser gives a thoughtful portrayal as Black Fox, a Native leader whose attempts to temper Jackson's policies eventually fail.
Performance-wise, most of the actors start out broad, and then ramp that up throughout the show. Just like the material, that approach runs into trouble when dealing with Jackson's considerable dark side.
IF YOU GO:
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Through June 29
New Century Theatre
615 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.455.9525 or visit online.