When the President of the United States struts on stage looking more like the lead singer of a rock band than the leader of the western world and declares, “I’m wearing some tight jeans,” you know you’re in for a wild ride.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, now showing at Phoenix Theatre, may be about the nation’s seventh President, and it may even follow a reasonably accurate historical path while telling its story, but it’s hardly conventional. The Broadway show is a rock musical comedy that essentially redefines what we think we know about the man who would eventually form the Democratic Party. It’s directed by Ron May who has moved across town from the confines of his Stray Cat Theatre venue and left none of his bad boy image behind.
The show began life in 2009 in a concert version then returned to the stage as a fully developed theatrical production the following year. Despite good reviews and a couple of Tony Award nominations, the run was short lived. Some speculate that it was simply down to a bad economy. Whatever the reason, it was Broadway’s loss. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson as directed by May is a hoot.
The show takes us through the history of Jackson, from his childhood days in Tennessee, his time with the military, his imprisonment by the British, his desire to see the government become more involved with the frontier and his eventual rise to the presidency, and it’s all presented as one long comedic skit that may at times appear like a free-for-all but is actually a disciplined, adult musical comedy with a fun cast that keeps you grinning from the moment Jackson declares, “I’m your President. Let’s go!”
According to the cast bios, after a nine year hiatus from the stage where he played with his rock band, The Instant Classics, Caleb Reese returns to valley theatre where he plays Jackson with all the cocksure swagger of an over-confidant rock star. It’s as if the nine year absence playing rock for real has finally paid off; the casting couldn’t be better. Reese not only sings well, he moves around the stage as if it’s his personal playground constantly barking orders to everyone around him while possessing the look – and the tight jeans – of someone who at any moment is going to turn to the audience and burst into a chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody. He’s also very funny. When his wife (Ashley Stults) requests that her husband stay at home, he states that as President he’s way too busy. “I’ve got to kill the entire native population,” he announces.
Reese is supported by a solid cast who appear to be having a blast throughout. Particularly funny and effective is Katie McFadzen as the wheelchair bound narrator, or storyteller. She’s on for only a short while before Jackson shoots her in the neck stating, “I can take it from here,” but while she’s there she’s a welcomed delight, at one point fondling Jackson’s tight behind while confiding in the audience that, “I love this scene.”
Two other standouts are Kyle Sorrell as the guitar playing bandleader and the already mentioned Ashley Stults as Rachel, Jackson’s wife, last seen together in Fox on the Fairway for Actors Theatre of Phoenix. Here they play very different roles, yet are both equally effective and fun to watch. In fact, that’s the secret of this colorful, high-energy production; it’s fun watching individual members of the cast take their moment on the stage and look as though they’re having the time of the life. When Eric Boudreau emerges from the ensemble and becomes John C. Calhoun, he looks to the audience and announces, “I like my women like I like my slave; slaves!”
Aaron Jackson’s scenic design is brought to life by Mike Eddy’s ever changing lighting design – this is one busy looking show – while Adrian Diaz’s costumes decorate the characters in a way that makes them look both vibrant and timeless; it may be history but it’s also in-the-now, and Diaz’s designs express that.
Whether you’ll come away from the show with any fresh insight into the nations’ rebellious president is debatable, but it doesn’t matter. That’s not really the point of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, at least, not this production. As history it’s obviously frivolous and at times the comedy is sophomoric, but it’s also non-stop, dread-dead fun with the kind of absurdity we all need to indulge in from time to time, and Ron May is just the director to deliver it.
For times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE to go directly to the Phoenix Theatre website.