You don't have to watch many cable news shows to realize that politics in this country is now, and always has been, like an overly dramatizing teenager. Simultaneously looking for acceptance and flouting convention, with pouty sneer firmly in place, we truly are the land of swooning, starry-eyed Obama lovers and loony Gingrich/Palin fact destroyers.
This enduring truth is crystallized in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the rip-snortin' rock musical set in the early 19th century and written by Alex Timbers, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. Gleefully loaded with anachronisms and ballsy candor, this play is a freaking rush from the get-go.
There's only one thing totally wrong with Beck's production, which we'll get to later. But that one flaw serves to illustrate how many decisions — hundreds? thousands? — are absolutely on target in this fast and furious 100-minute show.
Scores of those right things are on immediate display in Trad A Burns' wraparound set, featuring strings of multicolored lights, a moose head, and tons of other bric-a-brac from the period and beyond. Onto that magnificently cluttered stage strut 15 actors and a stripped-down band (guitar, bass, and drums). And the magic they create under the direction of Scott Spence is just as intoxicating, fascinating, and offensive as your first date with that hottie your parents never liked.
In this case, the bad-boy stud is Andrew Jackson, fighter for the common people and the seventh president of the U.S. We first catch a brief glimpse of Andy's family, and it's necessarily truncated since they are quickly dispatched by Indians — the period-appropriate term for today's Native Americans. A.J. abruptly evolves into a fierce fighter, joining a militia at age 13.
As he grows into his twenties, Jackson gets a rep for violence and hatred, as he despises with equal fervor the Indians, British, and Spaniards. But he's also a non-stop drunk, populist celeb, and sex machine, flirting and bedding chicks while boasting that his nickname, "Old Hickory," was in tribute to the girth of his oft-deployed penis.
But Jackson became infamous for forcibly relocating East Coast Indian tribes to the territories west of the Mississippi — and that serves as the show's unifying theme.
Mixing contemporary slang (muffintops, teabagging) with eloquently original tirades (Democrat Jackson calls Republicans "croquet-playing cock gobblers"), the play is like a political/historical crack dream on wheels.
And similar to the iconic book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail by Hunter S. Thompson, many facts are joyously trampled in pursuit of a larger truth about this country and our political fevers.
In the title role, Dan Folino uses all of his myriad talents to full and mesmerizing effect. A deft actor and enthralling singer, from ballads to emo-rock mash-ups, Folino is a sheer blast as this rude, raucous, and very popular politician. His performance is an absolute treat: If you deny yourself, you could be prosecuted for self-neglect.
Among the strong supporting company are standouts such as Trey Gilpin, who crafts a slyly fey Martin Van Buren, and Mike Majer as the borderline hysterical John Quincy Adams. Gilgamesh A. Taggett is a hoot as a Tea Partyish follower of Jackson, bedecked with campaign merch. But his rendition of Black Fox, a composite character standing in for Native Americans who colluded with Jackson, never comes into focus.
And now, the production's one major flaw: the frightful wig Folino is forced to wear early on, before he reveals his own Kool-Aid colored shock of chopped hair. The wig, a John Lennon-style fop number (circa Yoko), is a constant irritant, getting in Folino's face and just hangin' there like a Roseanne Roseannadanna snotball.
The band, led by guitarist Dennis Yurich, is slight but formidable. But the confrontational humor of the piece is as responsible as the music for the breathtaking pace. When the kindly, elderly narrator woman is shot point blank, you get the idea this is not your average biographical musical. And hoo-ray for that.