‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’ at The Studio Theatre by David Friscic

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With a randy impudence and audacity – occasionally bordering on the sophomoric – Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson pokes fun at our seventh president of the United States with the anarchistic verve of a rebellious rock star. Produced and staged with an eye towards cutting-edge entertainment rather than total historical accuracy, this musical is the perfect stimulant for those who are intrigued by today’s  intermingling of media hype with the myriad facts that constitute a President’s background and career profile.

Heath Calvert in 'Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.' Photo by Scotty Beland.

The Studio Theatre’s production is bracing and high-voltage with stellar production values, a strong group of musicians and the tightly controlled directorial hand of Keith Alan Baker and Co-Directors Christopher Gallu and Jennifer Harris. I do not think I have seen such a disciplined ensemble piece in quite a long time – everyone is playing off one another with finesse and with their respective strengths.

Composer Michael Friedman’s musical propels the audience very swiftly into the specific events of Jackson’s life such as his wooing of the already-married Rachel, the removal of Indian tribes and the Battle of New Orleans. The difference here is that all these events are portrayed in a show at a hurtling rapid pace in just over ninety minutes time – with the largest assortment of theatrical flourishes and stimulating shtick that this reviewer has ever seen combined in one show.

Think of the interactive, cavorting and rowdy nature of such shows as Hair, Godspell and Rent coupled with the sarcastic and cutting-edge humor of the National Lampoon, Bill Maher and Saturday Night Live. Nothing that can be mocked is left un-mocked from the homespun platitudes of Jackson’s parents to the bigamous marriage of Rachel and Andrew to the effete posturings of the Washington, DC political cliques and the East coast mentality at large. Visual and musical references from Susan Sontag’s book Illness as Metaphor to musical interludes by Michael Jackson, Madonna and Cher are astutely employed  to create a connection between past and present thus provoking  the audience into becoming complicit with the cast.  Credit Music Director Christopher Youstra, Set and Prop Designer Giorgos Tsappas and Video and Projections Designer Erik Trester with much of the effectiveness of this approach.

Heath Calvert (Andrew Jackson) sets the tone and commands the stage with the callow, sneering authority this role requires. Think Elvis Presley at his most petulant combined with shades of CrispinGlover from the film River’s Edge with a dash of Mick Jagger and you get a good idea of the effect produced by Calvert. I especially admired the way Calvert seemed to pace himself for his bigger moments – often holding himself in reserve in quieter moments in order to maintain the physical endurance he needs for this show’s demands on his energy. Calvert is rarely ever off stage and his is an extremely well thought-out portrayal; a lesser talent would have just given a one-note manic performance.

Felicia Curry as the Storyteller who strives to be politically correct while the insanities hurl around  her – hits just the right note of aggrieved patience and control.  Rachel Zampelli Jackson (Rachel Jackson) possesses a beautiful, delicate singing voice as well as strong acting chops. Davis Hasty, Matt Dewberry, Ben Horen, Pomme Koch and Alex Mills tear into their roles with the requisite polish and timing required.

Alex Timbers, who wrote the book, is clearly a very clever writer in mixing so many different styles to create such an original work. His work here on Jackson evokes the populist appeal of such politician/Presidents as especially seen in the early stages of the Carter, Clinton and Obama campaigns. The supposedly authentic, iconoclastic voice of the political outsider who battles the heartless establishment is a phenomenon that never dies.  The fickle nature of a public that turns on its perceived heroes is something that holds true in today’s current  political climate as well.

Rachel Zampelli Jackson and Heath Calvert in 'Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.' Photo by Scotty Beland.

Presidents have long been a part of musical theater lore from Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing to the dark vision of Sondheim’s Assassins, but this production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a very singular sensation that will stand on its own merits.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson plays through August 5th, 2012 at Stage 4 at The Studio Theatre – 1501 14th Street , NW, in Washington, DC.  For tickets, call (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.

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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.