Who is the man on the twenty-dollar bill? The Highwood Theatre answers that question with Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson to the beat of some catchy rock music. Alex Timbers wrote the book and Michael Friedman wrote the music and lyrics of this historical musical. The Highwood Theatre is a student theater organization based in Silver Spring that turns 10 years old this year. Executive Director Kevin Kearney who also directs this show has the motto, “Anyone can do theater.” He was very busy on this night, also playing keyboards along with Donna Zdan and Reginold James on percussion.
Highwood Theatre has grown into three main companies – one at schools, one for students after school, and the community-focused Your Theatre, which has put on this production. This is their first production using both professional and student actors. It’s a credit to the directors that you’re never sure just who has graduated from high school or not. The directing team, in addition to Kearney, includes Jacob Kresloff, a professional dramaturg, Leora Cherry, a local ninth grader who also acts in the musical, and Dylan Kaufman, an eighth grader who also acts and sings well during his turn as Young Andrew Jackson for “I’m Not That Guy.”
Ten professional actors and five students play multiple roles in this story of our seventh president. The title doesn’t lie; he had a pretty bloody history that the play doesn’t shy away from. Nor does it shy away from some pretty strong…and modern…language. Costume Designer James Raymond has decked out everyone in tattered, yet subtle punk gear to enhance the modern take on this not so ancient history.
They perform at American University in the intimate Studio Theater at The Katzen Arts Center in the round on a set of wooden crates designed by the Your Technical Theatre students. The students also tackled the complicated lighting design; the actors sang and danced facing every direction in the theater.
This charming cast launches the play with the cry of “Populism, Yea, Yea!” It was fun to see the whole cast onstage, stomping out their message for “Rock Star” and the finale, “Hunters of Kentucky.”
Soon after Andrew Jr. grows up, we meet Zachary Roberts (Andrew Jackson) to sing “I’m So That Guy.” Roberts is a force onstage – at home with the extreme sarcasm and humor of the script as well as the dramatic parts, all backed up by his Broadway-ready voice on songs like the poignant “Public Life” and “The Saddest Song.”
Katie Ganem (Rachel Jackson) makes an excellent foil on their bizarre and hilarious duet “Illness as a Metaphor.” Another standout is Rachael Murray (Storyteller) who narrates his early life before Jackson shoots her in the neck. It’s that kind of musical, but she has her revenge as she drags herself back onstage to narrate his death and legacy. Another standout is Kevin Dolan (Messenger, Cobbler). He’s an eighth grader with an awesome voice and an already well-developed stage presence. Madison Middleton and Andrew Wilhelm are the other two students in the play who fit seamlessly into the action.
With a band onstage in such an intimate space, the acoustics were a serious challenge that made it hard to hear the actors, especially as they moved in the round, but it could not take away much from their enthusiastic performance or fearless engagement with this musical that is really quite a challenge with it’s fast forward through history and the varying tones it takes in the politically complicated “Crisis Averted #1” and “Jackson is a Loser” to the trail of tears in “Second Nature.”
The Highwood Theatre’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a high-energy, hilarious, and powerful show.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson has two performances remaining today, Sunday March 9th at 4 and 7 PM at The Highwood Theatre Company performing at The Katzen Arts Center at American University – 4400 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online, or at the door.
Interview with the Cast and Directors of ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’ at The Highwood Theatre by Kevin Kearney.