Bailiwick's BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON Is Emo-Brilliant!

On those rare occasions, even before the lights go up, you can tell you are about to see something exciting.   Such an event happened last night at the opening of Bailiwick’s sensational Chicago premiere of the emo rock tale, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.   So what is “emo” rock?  It is rock of the most “emotional” nature and in this framework, director Scott Ferguson, along with choreographer Christopher Pazdernik, has created an intense and rousing piece of theatre.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson gives us a modern day look at the controversial seventh President of the United States.   Jackson is credited with the period of the greatest land expansion of America, which came at high human costs, especially those of the Indians.   With an aggressive book by Alex Timbers (who also directed the original production) and electric music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, Bloody allows history to be relived on a meta-theatrical scale that has not been seen in Chicago in a very, very long time.   The characters, while wildly exaggerated, still have the essence of simplistic truth about them and this allows the story to move forward and connect on a very base level with the audience.

The physical stage, which is actually an old masonic temple, only enhances the voracity of this piece.  The set and building structure all seemlessly  merge from one to another, with original gothic columns meshed with modern day theatrical lighting, the setting could not be more appropriate.

The musical takes us through most of Jackson’s life, beginning with a spirited childhood (his father died three weeks before Jackson was born); joining the militia at age 13 and being captured and held prisoner by the British; battles with the Spanish and Indians; his failed first run for President, which he lost much in the same way as Al Gore did in 2000; and finally his rise as the first populist President.   A great portion of the emotional core of the show comes from Jackson’s relationship to Rachel, whom we come to find out truly was his soul mate.    As the founder of  the “democratic” party, the musical explores Jackson’s relationship with the people of the United States and though his populist movement, gave voice to the voiceless.

Mr. Ferguson’s direction is creative and passionate.  As Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is more of a satire then its musical brother, Spring Awakening, this piece needs someone who can elicit truth out of the absurdity of the meta-theatrical, and Mr. Ferguason is just that guy.  This can especially be found in the casting choices.   Matthew Holzfeind’s Andrew Jackson is inspired.  He can rock out with the best of them then instantly turn his performance inward, especially in his scenes with Samantha Dubina who is stellar as Rachel, the wife who gives the ultimate sacrifice for the people.   The cast of characters is a who’s who of historical send-ups.  Harter Clingman steals every scene he is in as Martin Van Buren as does Judy Lea Steele as the roving storyteller.  The conspiracy to keep Jackson out of the White House is done by John Calhoun (Mark Lebeau), John Quincy Adams (Tanner Smale) and Henry Clay (Varris Holmes) who all double and triple different parts effortlessly.  Mr. Smale also makes for a hilarious tour guide.   One of the best numbers in the production is Jill Sesso’s ‘Ten Little Indians” in which one by one, the song chronicles the demise of the Native Americans.

As this is a rock musical, the band is as intricate as the actors to tell the story.   Musical director James Morehead truly brings this show its energy.  His band his sharp and tight, and as amplified as they are, never interfere with the singers.  It is a truly remarkable and dynamic blend with Matt Deitchman’s mastery on guitar and trombone (where was he when The Music Man came through town?); Patrick Rooney  (who was terrific in Floyd Collins), plays 2nd guitar and does some mean ass vocals; bass is handled by Cody Goose Siragusa and Lindsay Williams wails on percussion while Mr. Morehead tinkles the ivories.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is one of Bailwick’s best productions to date and ranks this theatre company up there with the best of them.  It is a gift to watch these young artists immerge and there are very few companies like Bailiwick that has the base and the tenacity to pull off something as genius as this show.

Bailiwick’s Chicago Premiere of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs through November 10, 2012 at National Pastime Theater, 941 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago.  For more information, including ticket purchases, please visit www.bailiwickchicago.com

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