Forget Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. For a coonskin, branchwater and blood-trail-blazing American hero, you can’t surpass Andrew Jackson, a self-appointed marauding militia general who shot his way into the White House as the seventh president of the United States. Oh, wait … did I say hero? Or heroic villain?
This is the question that Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson prosecutes in song, dance and biting comedic satire.
Produced by Table B Productions and presented by the Onyx Theater, this wacky musical-political riff provides a fun and engaging evening of entertainment, while interrogating schoolbook ideas about history, political power and social responsibility that have more than a little relevance today.
Written and composed by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, the show is an inspired piece of Americana chaos — part Hee Haw, midwestern high school rock opera, 1960s sketch comedy, a lost, stoned SNL episode and Drunk History Channel … held together by an un-PC punk deconstructionist cabaret sensibility.
The production at the Onyx Theater features a uniformly excellent cast, and director Troy Heard can be proud of how they work together in true ensemble. Choreographer Christian Escobar does a fine job herding cats in a tight space with cuckoo-clock precision. The production and costume design by Erik Ball is superb — especially given the intimate nature of the Onyx’s stage.
Cory Goble as A.J. warms to the part of this rebel without a pause. Not an especially strong singer, he has the bravado and engagement to capture the Axl Rose, loose-cannon quality of this Jackson.
The women are sexy and versatile as both singers and actors. Lead vocalist Nicole Unger shines. Brenna Folger wallows in the blood as A.J.’s wife to fine effect. Andy Vieluf plays a mincing-queen version of Martin Van Buren, which is so off-kilter with historical fact that it just has to be. Jake Taylor, as the treacherously expedient Blackfox, brings some lovely, slimy subtlety to a character caught between a Great White Father and a hard place. Special kudos go to the oldest member of the cast, Teresa Fullerton as the Storyteller, the charmingly nagging-librarian voice of History — and to Will Haley, the youngest, who plays Lyncoya, A.J.’s son. Both demonstrate polish and commitment in minor but crucial roles.
Not quite a musical per se, the show does offer some key songs. “I’m Not That Guy” and its variant reprise “I’m So That Guy,” and “Ten Little Indians” are highlights. If the supporting band is a mix of Prairie Home Companion and a GEICO commercial, that’s sort of the point. It all holds together with the mounted deer heads and flouncing calico.
The script is loaded with witty lines and postmodernist pop-cultural references (Susan Sontag gets a mention!), which could seem too cool for school, but they are woven in so well it seems appropriate. I particularly enjoyed exchanges such as …
“You speak Spanish?”
“I have several forms of hepatitis, too.”
In some ways, the verdict of history is still out on Old Hickory. The hero of the Battle of New Orleans, he was also a vicious and bloodthirsty opponent of Native Americans, particularly the Creeks and the Seminoles. He fought just as passionately against a political system he saw as being ruled by an aristocratic Northeastern elite, while being a wealthy slave owner himself and a staunch supporter of slavery. He shouted out tirelessly for the rights of the common man and forged the notion of “populist democracy,” while strengthening the “spoils system” of personal rewards for his supporters. He advocated states’ rights, and yet fiercely opposed the notion of individual states countermanding federal legislation. Perhaps the ultimate 19th-century “man of the people,” no one could have been more ruthlessly individualistic — or more frustrated by the sheeplike mentality of a public he thought could think for itself.
What can never be forgotten, however, is the role Jackson played in executing (often quite literally) the Indian Removal Act, which resulted in the disgraceful tragedy of the Trail of Tears. The show deals with this aspect of his life and career very poignantly.
This production of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson offers a thoroughly enjoyable blend of musical theater and ideas, and fulfills its promise of mixing Vegas showbiz appreciation with some avant-garde hip.
BLOODY, BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, 8 p.m., Sept. 19-21 and Sept. 26-28; 2 p.m., Sept 22, Onyx Theatre, 953-16B E. Saraha Ave., onyxtheatre.com, $25