Andrew Jackson’s bloody story


Traveling two states south to watch a play about the founder of the Democratic Party is not my idea of a perfect fall break, but somehow I did just that and only complained once or twice.

I spent break at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va., as part of the Shakespeare immersion course.

The final show we saw in Staunton was “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.” “Bloody, Bloody” depicts the less popular story of Jackson, especially in his treatment of Native Americans.

And what better way to present an alternative narrative than through a rock musical?

The difference in seeing Michael Friedman’s songs performed at the American Shakespeare Center is that Shakespeare’s staging conditions are adhered to.

The instruments were played by cast members onstage without amps, and the only mics used were cordless props. Thanks to the design of the theater, the acoustics still came through and the cast had strong voices to fill the space.

“Bloody, Bloody” begins Jackson’s biography with his tragic childhood where he is orphaned at a young age, and a quirky narrator (Allison Glenzer) begins his story in the Tennessee frontier. Glenzer enters the stage riding a motor scooter and wearing a hideous pink sweater, cooing about how difficult Jackson’s early life was.

Patrick Earl tells the audience again, singing “life sucks, and my life sucks in particular.” Earl, who played different villains in the Shakespeare plays, fit in the role of the title character with his powerful voice and Southern accent that resembles a blend of Elvis and Bo Duke.

The show moves along with high-energy choreography, and most of the lyrics came through in the musical numbers. Jackson’s historical involvement in battles like the First Seminole War and the Battle of New Orleans is introduced by huge posters carried in by female characters a la Vanna White.

The battles are not acted out in stage combat, but summed up with Jackson’s interactions with the “Indians.” He makes deals with them to leave their land.

These exchanges are delivered while one of the actors sings a rendition of “10 Little Indians,” until none are left. Jackson’s relationship with Native Americans becomes more intricate as the audience learns he is friends with the chief Black Fox and adopted a Native American boy in the aftermath of one of the wars.

His rocky relationship with his wife is explored as Rachel (Lauren Ballard) sings about how she and Jackson “have no private life.” After his first failed attempt at the presidential election, Rachel dies of grief.

The narrator explains “that’s the kind of shit that happened back then.” When Jackson does become president, his “yes man” cabinet is satirized with cheerleaders, and the narrator returns to question Jackson’s legacy.

While the characters of “Bloody, Bloody” allow for numerous comedic scenes — figures of Washington are depicted with explicit gay jokes, including a Martin Van Buren who is constantly wielding Twinkies — the narrative prods audiences to think about the true heroes of American history.


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