Old Hickory certainly left his mark in the history books. It's no secret that Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, was one of America's most polarizing figures. Acting under what he declared were the choices and movements of the people, he initiated ethnic cleansing in the United States through the forced relocation of Native American tribes from the Southeast to the west of the Mississippi River. He became Father of the Democratic Party and defeated the British at the notorious Battle of New Orleans.
Jackson was tough. His personality was aggressive. He appealed to The Common men of the country and fought politically against what he denounced as a closed, undemocratic aristocracy. In his eyes, the presidency was to be a spokesman for the people, as opposed to a plethora of Congressmen from specific small districts. He owned slaves. He fought in duels. He was, truly, one of our nation's most colorful Presidents.
Alex Timbers, author of Bloody, Bloody, took Jackson's animated presidency and spun it at just the right angle to showcase one of the nation's most controversial presidents in all his ass-kicking glory. The result: a zany carnival ride set to music that comes, one can imagine, remarkably close to reflecting the rowdy state of the nation at the time. Jackson is re-cast as a rockstar and Timbers's production follows him from his childhood home to the spotlight of the White House and the after years. From fighting the "injuns," seducing the ladies, and breaking down the pomp and circumstance of the nation's political elite, Bloody, Bloody puts the Jackson presidency on a uniquely hilarious platform. Jackson's political decisions are recast in a new, more modern light, lending themselves to mockery and highlighting the ridiculousness of his often poor choices and arrogance.
It is this creative brilliance that makes Bloody, Bloody a complete knock-out. The dialogue reflects cutting-edge wit. The performers prove time and time again throughout the production that it is not the size of a venue, the extent of a theater's budget, or elaborate set and costume design that defines an award-winning production. It is pure, raw talent, passion for the theater, and exceptional, spot-on, perfectly-timed delivery. There are not enough positive accolades to be said for the cast and crew of this production. Simply put: theater the way it was intended to be.
In particular, Heath Calvert, who plays Andrew Jackson, is first-rate. He is ruthless, determined, crazy, manic, brash, bold and yet, human. He becomes Timbers's animated profile of Jackson. One of the key pillars of Bloody's humorous foundation is the manner in which Jackson's monologues, retorts, and presidential speeches are delivered. Calvert expertly steps up to the challenge and you leave the theater certain that no other actor is capable of stepping into the "Jackson shoes" that Timbers has created in such a crafty manner. While Timbers's writing is defining, it is Calvert who expertly brings his words to life and to the stage through his memorable performance.
Credit must also be given to Felicia Curry as The Storyteller. She is sharp, commanding, and clearly has no trouble holding her own with Calvert. The cast is in wonderful hands with Calvert and Curry at the helm. As with any musical production, the story is enhanced and truly comes alive through the musical accompaniment and Studio Theatre's band does not disappoint. Although a small theatrical space, the music does not overwhelm but is a heart-pounding, makes-you-want-to-dance-in-your-seat addition to the performance.
Studio Theatre, you've blown me away. My only complaint: Please extend your run so that those with standby tickets have a fighting chance at witnessing your theatrical brilliance.
Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson runs now through August 19, 2012 at Studio Theatre. Visit www.studiotheatre.org for tickets, scheduling and more information.
Photo credit: Scotty Beland