BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON: A Rock Musical. Book by Alex Timber, music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. Directed by Jon Tracy. Music Director: Jonathan Fadner. The SF Playhouse, 450 Post Street, (2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel, b/n Powell & Mason), San Francisco, CA. 415-677-9596 or www.sfplayhouse.org. October 9 – November 24, 2012
BLOODY, BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON weird and loud at the new SF Playhouse.
For the start of their 10th season the powers that be at SF Playhouse have selected another off-the wall play that fills their new 200 seat theatre space with punk-rock music to assault your ears and at the same time give you something to think about. As a former hearing consultant for the defunct American Can Company research studies confirmed the deleterious effect of noise in the work place. Studies by other colleagues confirm the hearing damage of rock music and a significant number of the younger generation have decreased hearing levels of their elders. (Have you ever noticed the increasing number of ads for hearing aids?)
With that bit of moralizing, and confirming that this reviewer has a bias about punk rock, this review is extremely ambivalent. The storyline that depicts the life of Andrew Jackson, our Seventh President is absolutely fascinating proving again that what is old is new. . . politics have not changed very much since 1828. The energy of the cast is infectious and it is a perfect vehicle for director Jon Tracy’s physical style of moving his actors around the stage and occasionally overturning some furniture. He also has the benefit of Nina Ball’s three-level metal scaffolding set to keep all in perpetual motion and psychedelic lighting by the brilliant Kurt Landisman.
The music is described as ‘emo rock’ and Wikipedia informs me that it is a style of rock music characterized by melodic musicianship and expressive, often confessional lyrics. It certainly is that since the lyrics are sort of confessionals by Andrew Jackson and the cast. They are very clever and often macabre. Credit must be given to Alex Timber’s astute lyrics that define character and carry the story forward.
His ability is recognized by the New York critics who heaped praise on all three productions beginning with its 2009 origin at the Public Theatre and eventually moving to Broadway garnering along the way a Lucille Lortel, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards.
This is the regional premiere and it is almost a perfect vehicle to inaugurate the new theatre. The audience was filled with who’s who in the theatre world and other luminaries including a laudatory dedication speech by former Mayor Willy Brown. When the show begins there is a rousing blast by the onstage band. You may be pleasantly surprised that William Elsman who has been a mainstay at Marin Shakespeare Company doubles as John C. Calhoun and is an accomplished at the drummer.
In the early scene Jackson’s Tennessee family are killed by Indians and then goes on to be a military hero and founder of Populism and later the Populists became the Democratic Party. The ‘platform’ they espoused was rule by the common man challenging the rule by the elitist Northerners. When he first ran for president in 1824, even though he won the popular and electoral vote, the House of Representatives elected John Quincy Adams. In 1828 it was a different story and he won by a landslide.
He carried his Indian hatred well into his Presidency even to bucking the Supreme Court decision about the illegality of relocating the Eastern Indian Tribes to areas west of the Mississippi. He also believed in manifest destiny insisting that the whites had the right to claim all the land defined as America. The storyline is clearly outline in song and dialog including a Storyteller (Ann Hopkins) who enters and exits the stage on a mini-motor scooter until her ‘truths’ are silenced by Jackson and eventually thrown into a dungeon under center stage. This ploy adds to the humor needed for the evening.
Humor actually abounds and Ashkon Davaran, who is a rock star in his own right, is a charismatic Andrew Jackson with a great voice and charming stage presence knows how to milk the audience just as Jackson does his populace. El Beh, who plays the cello, has a show-stopper solo describing the killing of “10 Little Indians.” She also does a fantastic jig while playing the cello.The eleven member ensemble does heroic duty without a weak character in the bunch. They are: Michael Barrett Austin, El Beh, Angel Burgess, William Elsman, Jonathan Fadner, Safiya Fredericks, Gavilan Gordon-Chavez. Luca Hatton, Ann Hopkins, Olive Mitra, James Smith-Wallis and Daniel Vigil. (Running time is 90 minutes without intermission. Photos by Jessica Palapoli)
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com