You have to give the cast of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson a standing ovation for teamwork! The worst nightmare for a theatre performing a musical is to have the lead actor lose his singing voice and not have an understudy. That is what happened to the Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s (MET) production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. When I heard the bad news, my expectations were lowered. However, Director Julie Herber and Musical Director Alison Shafer made some adjustments, the cast picked up the slack, and Clay Comer’s voice held up fine for his speaking parts of Andrew Jackson. When I left the show, I wondered how this production could get any better!
The set design was simple with a lot of open space for the action to unfold. There were a few wallpaper pillars on the stage. I really like how Set Designer Joann Lee had the band mostly hidden behind pillars at the back of the stage. She left a few open spaces to let the sound permeate the theatre, but had the band mostly out of sight and in a position not to distract what was happening in the production.
The opening number “Populism, Yeah, Yeah!” grabbed the audience from the start and the talented cast did not let the audience go until the end. The up-tempo song had the cast in western cowboy and tramp costumes dancing to the edge of the stage and to the edge of the seats in the intimate theatre. Costume Designer Dusty Shaffer’s creations were great and varied from historical, to rocking, and sometimes sexy.
What perfect timing MET had for this politically-themed musical with the election right around the corner. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is hardly politically correct, and neither Native Americans nor Andrew Jackson are portrayed in the best light. Adult situations are present and profanity flies rather frequently. This is a musical that might shock or offend you, but it will also entertain you, and it’s thought- provoking as well.
Clay Comer played the part of Andrew Jackson with the bravado and sex appeal of a rock star. Hopefully his singing voice can match his stage presence in later performances. The male ensemble picked up the slack singing the songs Clay was scheduled to sing. They did a wonderful job and I felt the audience didn’t miss anything. A lot of credit goes to Thom Huenger, who was part of the ensemble, the guitarist, and band leader. Thom rose to the occasion singing most of the parts Clay would have sung. Alex Borlo plays Andrew’s wife Rachel and is part of the female ensemble. One of her highlights was her performance on “The Great Compromise.” Caitlyn Joy put in a solid performance in the female ensemble. Shea-Mikal Green also shined in the female ensemble especially on the “Ten Little Indians.”
Allison Duval played the annoying, comic relief storyteller role to perfection, and was part of the female ensemble as well. Her performance was so convincing that I could understand why Andrew Jackson shot her in the neck. Joe Jalette’s emotional performance as the Indian Black Fox was outstanding. One of his many highlights included his performance on “The Saddest Song.” Jack Evans (James Monroe/Male Ensemble), Eric Jones (John Quincy Adams/Male Ensemble), Matt Lee (John Calhoun/male ensemble), and Chris Thomas (Martin Van Buren/male ensemble) were memorable as the Washingtonians.
Evan Owens has some humorist scenes as Red Eagle, and he also was part of the male ensemble. The youngest cast member Wilson Seltzer (Lyncoya) played the Indian orphan that Andrew and Rachel adopted and raised. Young Seltzer played an important role making Jackson have second thoughts on some of his decisions and actions, and delivered a fine performance.
The closing number “Kentucky Hunters” highlighted the immense singing and dancing skills of the entire cast just like the opening number “Populism, Yeah, Yeah!” did.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is one of the best productions I have seen at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre. And when Mr. Comer’s voice returns, it promises to be even better!
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one intermission.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson plays through November 11, 2012 at Maryland Ensemble Theatre – 31 West Patrick Street in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 694-4744, or purchase them online.