Monday, October 1, 2012


I can hardly think of a better way to catch a break from the onslaught of this year's presidential campaign than to check out this saucy, contemporary, in-your-face look at our seventh president.  BBAJ opens New Line Theatre's 22nd Season, and this show is right up its alley.  Andrew Jackson's legacy includes praise for his military victories as an army general against the British and Spanish in the country's adolescence, helming the formation of the Democratic Party and winning the presidency by America's first popular vote in 1829.  It also includes the criticism he garnered for his forced relocation and devastation of Native Americans and his support of slavery.  I mean hell, during his campaign his opponents referred to him as a jackass.  According to the director's notes, "He was equal parts Barack Obama (charismatic populist), John McCain (crusty war hero), Sarah Palin (loud, clumsy outsider), and George W. Bush (cocky, loyal, and confident)."  He's a very controversial ex-president and the political commentary that runs throughout this rock musical serves as a constant ironic reminder of the parallels between the early nineteenth-century and the new millennium.

John Sparger (Andrew Jackson) and the cast of
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
In the rousing opening number that establishes our main character as an arrogant, frustrated, tight jeans wearing, political aristocracy hatin', gun totin' rockstar, Jackson's groupies enthusiastically set the tone the country was in with "Populism, Yea, Yea!".  Judging by the sex appeal of John Sparger as Andrew Jackson, you get the feeling that this president's nickname, "Old Hickory" has to do with a whole 'nother kind of… wood.  Talk about "stimulus packages"...  The show plays out in a frenzied series of vignettes and is hysterically narrated by a woman in an electronic wheelchair (Amy Kelly).  Beginning with his upbringing on the frontier, surrounded by death from cholera or Native Americans, we see a young Andrew Jackson fed up with the way his countrymen are left to fend for themselves, resulting in his decision to join the army at thirteen years old.  Later he becomes popular as a "frontiersman spokesperson" -- someone who would look out for the little guys who are getting their asses kicked on the boundaries of the country.

Mike Dowdy (James Monroe), BC Stands (John Calhoun),
Zachary Allen Farmer (John Quincy Adams),
Nicholas Kelly (Henry Clay), Brian Claussen (Martin Van Buren)
and John Sparger (Andrew Jackson).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
We see Jackson meet his wife Rachel (Taylor Pietz), and their mutual penchant for blood-letting with the song "Illness as Metaphor".  There's also his rise to fame after his victory at the Battle of New Orleans against the British along with Jackson's bargaining with Indian Tribes ("Ten Little Indians").  Once he wins the presidency, after enjoying a positive response from the American people, they eventually turn on him when the young nation's problems become more complicated as Jackson takes on the national bank and continues to struggle with the relocation of Native Americans.

Under Scott Miller's high-speed direction and Justin Smolik's tight direction of the New Line Band, this boisterous cast of New Liners deliver the musical numbers with their usual zest, and just enough cheek, complete with anachronisms like cell phones and cheerleaders, to bring out the best in even the lesser numbers.
Nicholas Kelly (Chief Black Fox), Stephanie Brown (Lyncoya)
and Brian Claussen (Martin Van Buren).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Leading the way is John Sparger as Andrew Jackson, painfully honest and full of energy.  Brian Claussen as Martin Van Buren, is particularly hilarious, and Mike Dowdy as James Monroe and Zachary Allen Farmer as John Quincy Adams, along with BC Stands as John Calhoun and Todd Micali make for a great male ensemble.  Amy Kelly as The Storyteller is very funny, and Nicholas Kelly in his role of  Chief Black Fox brings a lot of gravity to one of the more serious scenes near the end of the play. The female ensemble members bring it right along with the guys, and although the full ensemble could be a little drowned out at times, they all make for a fully committed cast.  Scott L. Schoonover's scenic design provides a little center area for the action, and the lighting and costumes (Kenneth Zinkl and Amy Kelly) nicely compliment the vibe of the show.

John Sparger (Andrew Jackson).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
When I saw this and blogged about it a couple of years ago, I said that people thought this show was too clever and smug for its own good, and that may be true for some.  But whether Andrew Jackson is remembered more as the voice of the people or the American Hitler, this is a history lesson that will prove much more interesting and entertaining than anything you've heard in school.  It's playing until the 20th.


Lyrics by Michael Friedman
Music by Michael Friedman
Book by Alex Timbers
Directed by Scott Miller
Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
through October 20 | tickets: $10 - $15
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm

John Sparger (Andrew Jackson), D. Mike Bauer (band soloist), Stephanie Brown (Lyncoya), Brian Claussen (Martin Van Buren), Mike Dowdy (James Monroe), Zachary Allen Farmer (John Quincy Adams), Amy Kelly (The Storyteller), Nicholas Kelly (Henry Clay, Chief Black Fox), Todd Micali ("Rock Star" soloist), Taylor Pietz (Rachel Jackson), Sarah Porter (Cheerleader), BC Stands (John Calhoun), and Chrissy Young (Cheerleader).

Costume design by Amy Kelly; scenic design by Scott L. Schoonover; lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl; sound design by Donald Smith; fight choreographer, Nicholas Kelly; stage manager, Alex Moore.

The New Line Band:
Piano/conductor, Justin Smolik; guitar, D. Mike Bauer; bass, Dave Hall; percussion, Clancy Newell.

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