“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” at Custom Made Theatre

“Bloody  Bloody Andrew Jackson” at Custom Made Theatre

Carol Benet

From the moment the lively rock musical “Bloody  Bloody Andrew Jackson” begins at Custom Made Theatre the comparisons of Jackson, the seventh president of the United States to our current President Donald Trump are riotously funny — and scary.

Trump admires Jackson so much that he has a portrait of him in his office in the White House.  Jackson was responsible for the Removal Act of 1830 that led to the Trail of Tears when the Cherokee Nation was forced, at gunpoint in a harsh winter, to leave their lands to Georgians.  Over four thousand died from exposure, hunger and disease.  Jackson also hated the Spanish, took away 20 million acres and sequestered them in a swamp in Florida.  Sound familiar?  It should.

“Bloody  Bloody Andrew Jackson” is entertaining in its negative portrayal of this bad boy.  It turns out to be so much fun, until you think of the consequences.  Jackson, president from 1929 to 1837, defied constitutional and supreme court rules and was one of the most controversial presidents of all time but just wait.  Yet he had and still has his supporters who deemed him one of the greatest presidents because he expanded he nation and appeased the angry frontiersmen who made him the first “Populist” president.  He was going to show the establishment in Washington a thing or two.

With snappy and foul-mouthed songs, Michael Friedman’s music and lyrics and Alex Timers’ book won many awards on Broadway when it opened in 2011.  It is a favorite for small theaters and even played at the SFPlayhouse but it was lost in their then new big wide stage.  There  it did not achieve the in-your- face dynamic of the current production in the small 99- seat Custom Made Theatre near Union Square where ironically it was home to the same SFPlayhouse in their earlier years.

Fourteen actors sing and dance the story with James Grady the main, raucous character of Jackson with his guitar and terrific voice.  The cast looks like it came off the set of “Rent” or other shows about counterculture folk.  Here they are costumed by Rachael Helman with women in their ripped net hose and revealing dresses and the men like ragged hipsters.  

They sing the 13 songs accompanied by a three piece on-stage band conducted by Amando Fox whose day job is as professor of computer science at UC Berkeley.  The ensemble starts with singing “Populism (Yea Yea)”, a rousing song that could be theme music of any Trump’s rallies  Later they sing a nasty version of “Ten Little Indians”’ that tells the story of the disappearance of the tribes in Jackson’s successful quest to grab their lands.

The compact, one-act 90 minute play is filled with like songs, campaign rallies,  deaths, love stories (Jackson and his wife Rachel) and bloodshed.  It’s a riotous affair yet highly entertaining.

Brian L. Katz, co-founder of Custom Made Theater, is director of this demanding show and he does a fine job.  Leslie Waggoner’s choreography allows the cast to dance all over the stage in clever combinations.  Aaron Curry’s brash lighting is perfect as is Courtney Jean’s sound design.  Gabriel Kenney’s fight choreography is important to the violent nature of the Jackson presidency.

If you don’t mind the F worded lyrics, take the teenagers to this show.  They may even learn a bit of American History and I’m sure they won’t be as shocked at the language as you are.  

Concurrently running in the Bay Area on the same theme of Andrew Jackson and the Native Americans is the Marin Theatre Company’s “Sovereignty”.   A new art exhibit shows

photographs of the Bay Area indigenous population in “The Continuous Thread” that just opened at the main gallery of the San Francisco Art Commission in SF War Memorial Veterans Building on Van Ness and McAllister in Civic Center. 

And the novel “There There” by Tommy Orange, an Oakland Native American, has been chosen as “One City, One Book, San Francisco Reads” for the Fall 2019 with many lectures, book groups, exhibits and author readings through November 2019. sfpl.org/onecityonebook

But a highlight in this revision of Native American history is the Custom Made Theatre’s production of “Bloody Bloody Jackson” that runs through October 27, 2019.   custommade.org

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →