Bloody Bloody Good Theater
After all this time, I finally saw Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson again in its current run at the Public Theater. I wanted to see it again so badly I even paid for tickets--Paid. For. Tickets. Believe me, if you're a critic, that's a big deal. If you're a Philly critic, taking money away from a Philly theater and spending it, you know, *there*, it's an even bigger deal--and here are a few reasons why:
- I wanted to see if I thought it had a shot at a Broadway run, because sooner or later, if Broadway ignores Les Freres Corbusier, it will do so at its own peril. I just wasn't sure if this was the show to take them there.
- I wanted to see if this musical that resonated so deeply during W's tenure would have the same cathartic punch under Obama.
- I wanted to see if it lived up to my own hype. After all, I've devoted a lot of blog space to one show I saw almost three years ago. (Below: BBAJ, circa 2008)
- No, I do not think this is the show that will take the boys and their swaggering Jackson, Ben Walker, to Broadway. But it's a lot of fun, and Director/playwright Alex Timbers is a veritable Wallenda when it comes to walking the line between wide-eyed and winking. BBAJ itself rests between Schoolhouse Rock and Drunk History, and doesn't even make you pick a side; enjoy them both, AND walk away with a lesson. That's value for your entertainment dollar. Composer Michael Friedman's musical moments--because they're not whole songs, although they are insanely catchy verses--burst furiously through the script much like the emotions of a bratty adolescent, which is appropriate, considering Timbers' Jackson is portrayed as a wrist-cutting emo rock star. But it's still too messy, and though scenes such as the one in which an actress snarls out a tune about "10 Little Indians" who meet an untimely end, are better integrated this time (at L.A.'s Kirk Douglas Theatre, the song stopped the show dead; here, it's set against a parade of soon-to-be-broken treaties), I just don't think it can--or should--clean up all that well. Oskar Eustis did the right thing by bringing it back for a mainstage run, and that's a pretty great legacy, well deserved. It's not the game-changer I thought it could be, but I'll tell you this much, if I weren't a theater critic, I'd gladly be an investor in whatever project LFC take on next, because I have no doubt a game-changer will emerge from BBAJ's raw material and LFC's momentum.
- No, it's not the same under Obama, although you can't fault Timbers for trying. Imagine, if you can bring yourself to do so, that it's early 2008, George W. Bush is deep into his second term as president, post-Katrina FEMA trailers are exhaling formaldehyde, the Iraq war is still racking up American casualties, and onto the stage struts Andrew Jackson, whining, drinking, indulging his expansionist fantasies, ignoring the collateral damage, singing populism's praises. The parallels are as powerful as your frustrations, and you are grateful to see them both portrayed onstage in this way--those who don't know history are condemned to repeat it, etc. Now it's 2010, and though yes, Obama was swept into the presidency on a wave of popular support, his election was a reaction to Bush's populism, just as Bush's populism was a reaction to Clinton's perceived chardonnay-drinking, Volvo-driving elitism (remember that?). It's just not the same, and aiming Jackson at Obama only serves to untie the show from its moorings. I get it, the people's desire for a hero to swoop in, make decisions and save the country is timeless. But BBAJ's genius lay in the way it equated the mass appeal of bratty, insolent, obdurate Jackson with, well, that of bratty, insolent, obdurate Bush. Now, as a parallel to the Obama presidency, it sends a disappointing mixed message--disappointing especially because its original message was so forceful and dead on (AJ would have wanted it that way!), while the Botox applied to this version seems more like a hedged bet. Maybe if we ended up with a McCain/Palin regime and the show stuck to its roots, it would have blown up Broadway. But honestly, I'm glad we didn't have to find out.