I'm sure somewhere at the UW, ensconced in a library full of books, there's a Ph.D. student writing a great, analytical dissertation on American history. Music Theatre of Madison's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (through July 27 at the Bartell Theatre) is history for the rest of us, in the form of a rock musical. It's a populist tale based on a populist president.
Yes, that Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States. The guy known for land expansion, forced relocation of Native Americans and the creation of the Democratic Party. He is re-envisioned here as a rock 'n' roll demagogue, inciting the people, avenging his parents' death and having a helluva lot of fun. If your idea of great theater is a fast-paced, seat-of-your-pants style ride, more common to action films than the proscenium arch, then you'll find it a helluva lot of fun, too.
The show follows young Andrew from the death of his parents to his beginnings as a revolutionary out to vanquish the Spanish, English and Native Americans, all at the tender age of 13. Over the course of the show, Andrew meets his wife, vanquishes a whole lot more and eventually enjoys such a following that he's elected to the White House. There he discovers that rule by the will of the people is not as easy as wrastling a few Spaniards.
Despite its historical focus, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a comedy. It played well off-Broadway and at the Public Theater in New York City but failed on Broadway soon after it arrived. The show is bawdy and R-rated (for language if nothing else), and it has no real second act. Add to that a main character that rocks out on stage covered in blood and eye makeup (à la Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong), and it's not hard to see why the show failed with the matinee set.
But who cares what they think? As old A.J. would say, "Fuck the elite."
For my part, I can't remember having more fun at a Madison show all season. The cast is spot on, enjoying the frenetic energy of the show as much as those in the seats. Paul Milisch, as the show's title character -- the guy "who puts the 'man' in 'manifest destiny'" -- is charismatic and dynamic, and has a killer voice to boot. Hearing him sing numbers like the soaring pop ballad "I'm Not That Guy" left me wanting me more. A lot hinges on the performance of this linchpin role, but Milisch pulls it off with confidence and style. Katie Davis as the Bandleader and Matthew Schrader as the traitorous Indian chief Black Fox are also two to watch. But truth be told, the whole cast is enjoyable and doesn’t hesitate to put their all into even the smaller roles.
So while nights are finally longer and the warm summer air might call you to leisurely stroll around the Capitol, I really encourage you to take the 1.5 hours (on the nose) to see this production, which is directed by Meghan Randolph. It's a bloody good time: I vote "yes" on Jackson.