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Risk pays off for maverick musical
THEATER, BY BOB ABLEMAN
Risk pays off for maverick musical
The musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" - a raucous mix of subversive political satire, emo rock rhythm and Jello-shots of audacity - has been given an extended run at the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood. The show will continue through July 22 after three weeks of sold out performances.
A recent off-Broadway success created by Alex Timbers (book) and Michael Friedman (music and lyrics), the play tells the revisionist tale of America's first political maverick who became our seventh president. The Beck Center's regional premiere production of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" is a fast-paced, in-your-face entertainment that leaves little time to breathe, reflect or revolt. Yet, despite its bold, hit-and-run recklessness, it never loses focus, direction or its audience's undivided attention.
Known as the father of modern democracy and the man behind Manifest Destiny, Mr. Jackson was the early 19th century equivalent of a rock star: a populist, loose cannon politician who, according to John Mecham's biography "American Lion," "was beloved and hated, venerated and reviled ... and gave voice to the hopes and fears of a restless nation."
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" not only runs with the rock star theme, but runs wild. A traditional orchestra is replaced with a phenomenal, pulsating on-stage band featuring Dennis Yurick on guitar, Ingrid Lang on bass, Jason Giaco on drums and frequent visits from Dan Folino - as a young, profane, sexually charged Andrew Jackson - on vocals.
Rock star politician is the role that Mr. Folino, a superb actor and the lead singer of his own band, was born to play. Equipped with full-throttled swagger, tight pants and punk-pink hair, Mr. Folino doesn't so much play the restless, impulsive Mr. Jackson as bring to life an imagining of the man's monumental ego. Brought to the forefront are Mr. Jackson's egregious qualities that made him both a memorable renegade and forgettable leader during a time of great change, when the nation was a doe-eyed adolescent aching for a hero.
The show unfolds in pseudo-historic moments that erupt into musical numbers. Behind closed doors and in the song "Illness is a Metaphor," we witness the pleasure Mr. Jackson derives from his own pain and, by extension, the misery he introduces to the invading Spanish and the loitering British. Acts of violence are reverted to running slapstick sketches or, in the case of the massacre of native Americans, a haunting rendition of the "10 Little Indians" nursery rhyme. Mock press conferences and parodies of contemporary campaign commercials are all fodder for this unique brand of storytelling.
To accomplish all this, Mr. Folino is surrounded by a brilliant ensemble of local area actors who step in and out of caricatures of real-life people. They include Trey Gilpin as Martin Van Buren; Mike Majer as John Quincy Adams; Chris McCarrell as Henry Clay; Gilgamesh Taggett as James Monroe and Black Fox, Sam Wolf as John Calhoun, Keri Rene Fuller as Mr. Jackson's wife Rachel; Alyssa Easterly as Naomi; Casey Cott as Red Eagle; Pat Miller as a messenger; Amiee Collier as a featured vocalist; Lindsey Mercer as a tour guide; Elliot Lockshine as Mr. Jackson's son Lyncoya; and Hester Lewellen as the Storyteller.
Every performer is devoted body and soul to this enterprise, and delivers the show's acerbic humor - of which there is plenty - with the same aplomb as they do its speed dialing dialogue and the intense, primal and frequently rowdy musical numbers masterfully choreographed by Martín Céspedes.
This show has been relegated to Beck's second stage - a small black box arrangement where its riskier, more risque shows reside, as if no one will notice them as much if in the back corner by the bathroom. Notice this they will, for "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" sparks on all cylinders and, under Scott Spence's astute and creative direction, employs the intimacy of the Studio Theater to its fullest advantage.
Also noticeable are the disturbing parallels this play unveils between the carnival-like affairs of state of yesteryear and the circus that is today's political arena. The more things change, we are told through the modern trappings in which this old story is conveyed, the more they remain the same. In fact, while Trad A Burns' wonderful multi-tiered set design resembles a period saloon, it offers a three-ringed space for Jackson's personal and political life to unfold in big-tent fashion. Jennifer Sparano's wonderful costuming reinforces this concept.
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" is invigorating theater; it is the type of show that has already attracted a younger audience and expanded the sensibilities of an older crowd. It proves that quality entertainment comes in all forms and is worth the risk.
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" runs through July 22 at the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood. For tickets, which range from $17 to $28, call 216-521-2540, extension 10.
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