Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson by Minneapolis Musical Theatre, performing at the New Century Theatre

Logan Greene and Philip C. Matthews in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Photo by Byron Ritter.

Logan Greene and Philip C. Matthews in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Photo by Byron Ritter.

Andrew Jackson, our seventh President, was a nasty piece of work. A westerner (from the frontier state of Tennessee), Jackson owned slaves, gleefully massacred native Americans, slew men in duels, bigamously married his wife, battled his way to the Presidency, destroyed hundreds of banks and, most infamously, engineered the “Indian Removal Act” of 1830, whereby thousands of natives from the South were forcibly removed to the “Indian Territory” (Oklahoma), many on what has become known as the “Trail Of Tears.”

Historians argue: was Jackson a hero (for founding the Democratic party and for defending the common man against the predations of the rich)? Or was he a homicidal maniac?

Myself, I side with the maniacal viewpoint, but it’s hard to know where lie the authors (music/lyrics by Michael Friedman, book by Alex Timbers) of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Minneapolis Musical Theatre performing at the plush New Century Theatre, through June 29) on this issue.

The show shoehorns the totality of Jackson’s living-large life into a super-campy 90 minute musical, complete with driving rock songs (!) and a cast of dozens. Bloody Bloody is relentlessly anachronistic (“No Way!” / “Yes, way!”), foul-mouthed (the fuck-word flies frequently from the orfici of the performers), highly dependent on stylized homosexual banter (President Van Buren minces and preens incessantly), ugly racism (e.g., the cringe-inducing song “Ten Little Indians”). The show details Jackson’s myriad hatreds of Spaniards, Brits, natives, his blunt ambition, his casual disregard of the rule of law and his bizarre (even by early 19th century standards) lack of common decency.

Yikes.

But is, I hear you asking, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson funny? Does it tell a story compelling enough to counteract the sleaze? Well, if your idea of funny is nasty camp, repetition and more repetition, relentless macho posturing, tuneless rock songs, maybe. But there is little if any redeeming story. The show exploits, imo, American history for – questionable – theatrical effect. Moreover, I found the show’s treatment of native Americans unfunny to an extreme.

The cast does what it can. Steven Meerdink directs with energy and keeps the proceedings zipping along; there is no question that Bloody Bloody entertains, albeit crudely. (The show, BTW, is Meerdink’s swan song; he’s stepping down as MMT’s artistic director).

As Jackson, Philip C. Matthews looks good in a cutaway military jacket. He sings with fierce energy and holds the stage. Matthews is a talented actor, stymied by the material; I look forward to seeing him in other plays. The only other performer who manages to rise above the material is Aly Westberg as Jackson’s beloved wife Rachel. Westberg plays her with subtlety and genuine emotional fervor.

Local playwright Rhiana Yazzie, founder of the New Native Theatre, has written an effective letter, protesting Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson‘s cavalier depiction of the struggle of the southern tribes. (The StarTribune has posted the letter in its entirety here). But, really, she needn’t have bothered; Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson lacks real punch.

Minneapolis Musical Theatre produces small-scale, often edgy, always worthwhile musicals. Their recently announced 14-15 season attests to this: Eating Raoul (Oct 3-26) Calvin Berger (Jan 23-Feb 15) and Happy Days (Apr 24-May 17).

For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.

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