It’s not often that you’ll see the words “contemporary” and “history” refer to the same thing, but that’s exactly the case with Dramashop’s upcoming production of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”
This rock musical, set in the time of America’s founding fathers, was written six years ago by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman and on Thursday opens Dramashop’s fourth season.
Jessica Flock, the show’s director, said she wanted to direct this piece because it was very similar to one of her favorite musicals – “American Idiot” – and because it is a contemporary musical. Flock said despite her high involvement with musicals, she never had the opportunity to direct one.
“I was excited to take on the challenge,” Flock said. “And it has definitely proved a challenge.”
Flock said the average cast size of a Dramashop show normally ranges from four to five people whereas “Bloody Bloody” has a large, 14-person cast.
“We questioned whether we were able to tackle something of this scale,” Flock said.
Flock said the show has been on Dramashop’s radar for a couple of years now. Before taking the risk, they experimented with musicals like “Title of Show” and “Homemade Fusion” to see if there was an audience in Erie for those kinds of shows.
Since both “Title of Show” and “Homemade Fusion” proved successful, Dramashop decided that they were ready to take on “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”
The musical shows Andrew Jackson as a young adult and takes the audience through an adapted version of Jackson’s journey to become president and the challenges he faces while he’s in office; but this adaptation features trends and language from the 21st century.
“It’s fairly provocative and profane, so it wouldn’t necessarily fit at a lot of other venues in town,” Flock said. “However, it is weirdly educational, it’s engaging, it’s entertaining and I think the audience will leave with a lot to talk about.”
Adele Stewart, who plays Rachel, Jackson’s wife, said she thinks the audience will get a history lesson unlike anything at school. She said when she came into this show, she knew Jackson was a president, but she didn’t know how sad and depressing his life was.
“This show will definitely make people think.” Stewart said. “It will make them wonder about whether Jackson was right to do some of the stuff he did in his presidency or whether he was just a total and complete jerk.”
Stewart said she also hopes that the audience leaves with a good laugh or two as well.
One of the cast members who got a couple of laughs while working on the show was Michael Haas, a Gannon University sophomore with a double major in political science and theatre – a perfect combination of interests for this show.
Haas said “Bloody Bloody” is the first musical he’s been involved with at Dramashop and the biggest production he’s been a part of.
Compared to his experiences at the Schuster Theatre, he’s made a transition from traditional musicals to a rock-oriented contemporary musical, Haas said.
Haas switches between many roles throughout the show. Two of his main roles, Black Fox and Henry Clay sit on opposite sides of the personality spectrum.
“You really have to adapt your physicality as well as your voice and everything between one scene and the absolute next one,” Haas said.
Haas said as Black Fox, the Native American leader, he plants himself and tenses up to show his strength. When he plays Henry Clay, Jackson’s opponent in the presidential election, he hunches his back and limps a bit while changing his voice to sound more sinister.
“It’s been really fun to run the gamut of one extreme to the other in a single show,” Haas said. “Usually you don’t get that opportunity.”
Haas said “Bloody Bloody” is a musical unlike any other that people might see. Young people, especially college students and young professionals will enjoy the themes behind it and learn a little bit about history, in a humorous way.
“One of the big [themes] is finding your place,” Haas said. “Jackson’s character wants to be able to be the voice of the people, but once he gets into office, he realizes the troubles of direct democracy.”
“There are just universal truths that are so funny to watch and you don’t have to be a history or a musical lover to find them funny,” Haas said.
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” opens at Dramashop at 8 p.m. Friday and will continue to run Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 27. Student tickets are $5.