“I’m wearing some tight, tight jeans and tonight we’re delving into some serious, serious shit,” Andrew Jackson (Keaton Williams) says at the beginning of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”
Jackson – “Old Hickory” – accidental bigamist, Indian hater, winner of the Battle of New Orleans, gambler, duellist, slaveholder, populist and seventh President of the United States (1829-37) – is the subject of the Wild West rock opera playing through Aug. 4 at Chance Theater in Anaheim. Kari Hayter directs.
This rollicking, noisy, fact-bending show (with a book by Alex Timbers) portrays those rough-and-tumble early days when we were trying to define “American,” accompanied by Michael Friedman’s rock score played by a boffo four-member band, and featuring some fine, athletic choreography by Kelly Todd. In the versatile cast of 13, most play multiple parts.
Here’s some background: Born in the backwoods of the Carolinas (his mother was in transit at the time), Jackson received little education, enlisted as a military courier at 13, was orphaned at 14 and eventually became a lawyer and slaveholder in Tennessee, where he built a mansion known as the Hermitage.
Denied in his first bid for President (though he won both the popular vote and a plurality – but not a majority – in the electoral college in 1824, the House voted to give the election to John Quincy Adams), Jackson won the presidency in 1828 but lost his wife Rachel (Ashley Arlene Nelson), who died suddenly before the inauguration.
Jackson fought political foes that seem contemporary: the national bank (he vetoed the renewal of its charter, ensuring its demise), the aristocracy that had run the country up to his election. And though he was known as a populist, he had his own idea about who “the people” were, and talked of “taking the country back” – not just from foreigners like the Spanish and French, who wanted part of the action, but also from the Native Americans, who were here first.
His problems with Native Americans are symbolized here by his relationship with Black Fox (Robert Wallace), a Cherokee who was actually convinced to act against his people by his friend Jackson, who later betrayed both Black Fox and the Cherokees.
Williams shines as the unvarnished and self-contradictory Jackson, rough yet charismatic, populist yet exclusionary, who protected popular democracy while supporting slavery and forcing the Native Americans west of the Mississippi.
Wallace’s Black Fox is excellent – somber, intelligent, but with the fatal flaw of trusting his old friend Jackson.
Nelson is fine in the thankless role of Jackson’s wife, beloved of her spouse but largely relegated (like most women of the time) to the back bench.
Two former presidents don’t fare much better – James Monroe (James McHale) comes off as a Frenchified dandy; Martin Van Buren (Kyle Cooper) as a sycophant who spends most of the evening shoving Twinkies in his mouth.
This show is a wild, raunchy, high-energy romp reminding us that the American political system, adversarial by design, sometimes looks a bit like a contact sport.
But if we never learn, at least we can have a bloody good (if profane) time watching our forebears in action.
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” plays through Aug. 4 at Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Avenue in Anaheim Hills (Orange County).
Thursday at 7:45 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.
Tickets: (714) 777-3033 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.