Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Politically Incorrect - Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson - Musical Review

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson - Newman Theater at The Public - Off-Broadway, New York, NY - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, Written and Directed by Alex Timbers
Review based on preview performance. Opened Apr. 6th, Runs until Apr. 25th 2010
UPDATE: Extended until May 9th 2010 UPDATE #2: Extended until May 30th 2010

Andrew Jackson was the 7th President of the United States, and he was a hero to the people, or was he an American Hitler? To be honest, I don't know much about American history (that hasn't been cemented in film history) so a new musical about Andrew Jackson's controversial reign set to emo-rock music and presented in a satirical low-brow comedy style just sounds cool enough to work.

And to a degree, it does, mostly because of Alex Timbers' college-style humour filled book that is secretly clever in its analysis on the stupidity of political life (of the 19th century that is a thinly veiled metaphor to the current political tea party's). Timbers' direction goes all out in inspired over-the-top antics, including a modern day wheelchair-bound nerdy teen narrator (a very funny Colleen Werthmann) and a wussy Twinkie-eating Vice-President Martin Van Buren (a hysterical Lucas Near-Verbrugghe).

Benjamin Walker is a handsome and sexy Andrew Jackson, a damaged young man (whose parents were killed by Indians) filled with anger, angst and confusion, and manages to climb through the ranks by inspiring the populists hatred toward common enemies (basically everyone who isn't American, and particularly the Indians). Walker rocks out the songs and nicely balances the dark yet silly humour and tone with a confident gravitas making quite a stirring star turn (that slightly reminds me of a Jonathan Groff's older straight brother).

Using emo-rock to represent the emotional stirring of the masses that Andrew Jackson milks to become the people's President is perfect in its depiction. The people want it and that's the excuse Andrew Jax uses, or is the populist thinking just an excuse for Andrew Jackson to carry out his damaging actions? It's a perfect forum for a rock musical and Donyale Werle's sets and Justin Townsend's lighting nicely paint a radical mood set in traditional times, with the entire theatre decked out in Red fluorescents and baroque chandeliers and picture frames.

Unfortunately, the entire show starts to weaken anytime the game cast starts singing one of Michael Friedman's songs. Walker and company rock them out as much as possible and they have the right attitude, but the songs never truly captivate in between Timber's smart-alecky book and the music slows down the cleverness of the musical.

The ridiculous style of the show recounting the controversial history of American politics makes for a clever mix, but its too bad the music loses whatever steam the ironic comedy builds up. The intermissionless show begins to drag with ever song and Benjamin Walker's charisma, a wicked cast (including a wonderfully cartoonish Jeff Hiller and springy Kate Cullen Roberts) and the politically incorrect jokes can only carry the musical so far.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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