June 17, 2024

Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson attempts to twist the story of America’s first political maverick into a parable for our time. A.J. kicked British butt, shafted the Indians and smacked down the Spaniards all in the name of these great United States.  Who cares if he didn’t have any actual authority – he was riding a wave of populist discontent towards the establishment that would make today’s tea-baggers cream their jeans. Reinventing Old Hickory as a petulant and pouty-face emo kid is brilliant; a slap in the face of our narcissistic culture of instant gratification and misplaced rage against a machine of our own creation.

The opening number, Populism, Yea, Yea, shouts earnestly about taking “a stand against the Elite – this is the Age of Jackson.”  Substitute “the Age of Palin” and the next set of the lyrics become brutally funny in their essential “truthiness”:

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
I’m pretty sure its our land anyway.

When the cabal of John Calhoun, John Quincy Adams, James Monroe, Henry Clay and Martin Van Buren later ask, “Do you really want the American people running their own country?” you have to laugh.  Sure, the Elite may be fixing elections and pursuing policies that best suit their personal interests, but if not them, who? Popular democracy is a scary thing – and being mad as hell doesn’t necessarily translate well into effective policy. In an exhilarating star turn as our 7th President, Benjamin Walker learns that lesson all too well as the mob turns from adoration to antipathy in the time it takes to say ADD.

Where the authors misstep is in trying too hard to flesh 30 minutes of great material into a 90-minute Broadway show.  This leads to an unnecessary subplot involving a wheelchair-bound lesbian narrator, random doses of humor that border on the puerile, and most egregiously, the pious elevation of Indian disenfranchisement and slaughter into extended moments of “importance and meaning” that ring about as true as Shrub’s recent assertion that Kanye West’s comments were the worst thing to happen during his presidency.

Yet I’m harshing on the party.  What was the last musical you saw that made you grateful for both tight jeans and our system of checks and balance?

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