Writer’s note: I attended the Thursday night performance of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” last week partly because it was a requirement for my theater class, but also because I low-key have a love for musicals.
Prior to attending the Thursday night production, pretty much all I knew about “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” came from the preview of the show by TNH Contributing Writer Eliza Sneeden that was published in the arts section on Oct. 6. My knowledge regarding the seventh president of the United States was negligible, besides some basic background information, but here’s a little fun fact that I did know: Jackson and I share a birthday (March 15).
As mentioned in both Sneeden’s preview and the director notes by David Kaye featured in the program, the concept of “Bloody Bloody” shares similarities to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway blockbuster, “Hamilton.” Though I haven’t seen it and the chance of me seeing it any time soon is minimal to say the least, it might be an understatement for me to say that I’m familiar with the soundtrack of Miranda’s musical that’s based off the life of America’s first secretary of the treasury. I recommend listening to it as soon as possible.
However, after witnessing the opening number, “Populism, Yea, Yea,” it became clear to me that “Bloody Bloody” was going to be more “American Idiot” than “Hamilton.” At first, I didn’t know how I’d feel about this. But it’s been almost a week since I’ve seen the show, and I still have a majority of the track list stuck in my head. The songs (with most of them being quite catchy) were performed superbly by the cast as a whole, and I have nothing but good things to say about the production. As someone who doesn’t see theater productions often enough, I left Johnson Theater that night with a sense of enlightenment.
My theater professor, Sarah Marschner told my class on numerous occasions that there would be times where “Bloody Bloody” would potentially be offensive to us. In this category, it certainly wasn’t a disappointment.
Kaye writes in his director’s notes that when describing “Bloody Bloody,” he has often said to “imagine that the guys from ‘South Park,’ some writers from ‘Saturday Night Live,’ the musical group The Dresden Dolls and Bertolt Brecht were all locked up in a room together and given one week to write a musical about Andrew Jackson…this may be what they would have come up with.” I cannot speak upon the respective musical and theatrical references he made, but in regard to the comedy of the show, Kaye’s comparison is spot on. Needless to say, I found the show to be hysterical.
Though I wasn’t personally offended by the play, there are definitely scenes throughout it that could potentially rub some attendees the wrong way. But frankly, I think the somewhat offensive nature of the play is one the major strengths of the show.
Jackson had his faults, and he remains to be one of the most polarizing and controversial figures found in U.S. history, due in part to implementation of the Indian Removal Act in 1830 under his presidency. With that in mind, this musical does him justice. Though his legacy is tarnished to an extent because of the “Trail of Tears,” there’s an argument to be made that our present-day America would be much different if it weren’t for Jackson. “Bloody Bloody” doesn’t try to offer any definitive answer to the question of how we should perceive President Jackson, but rather it just brings up the point for discussion, while also being a bloody-enjoyable musical.
If it weren’t for the fact that he’s been dead for the last 171 years, I would invite Jackson himself to discuss his political life with me over some birthday drinks come next spring; I’m sure he could answer a lot of questions that I have.