Written and directed by Alex Timbers with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman (I interviewed both men for a story in Playbill earlier this year), BBAJ irreverently takes a look at America as the angry teenager that it still is, with rising star Benjamin Walker hamming it up as America’s first populist (and Democratic) president, a man born outside of the aristocracy with a big chip on his shoulder and angst in his heart. He is politician as rock star, and the overly dramatic emo genre fits the story perfectly, as Jackson takes his personal vendetta against Native Americans to extreme levels while trying to change Washington and unite America prior to the Civil War. It is purposefully controversial and offensive. One woman at the show I attended this past spring booed at a couple of scenes where Jackson was strong-arming Native Americans, not sensing that the play was on her side. At least I thought so. (She was shushed soon enough.) I can’t wait to see how more mainstream theatergoers respond.
The set design for the second run at the Public Theater was a surreal mixture of Americana, painted portraits, taxidermy, bar trappings and hidden pornography. I’ll be curious to see how it is adapted for Broadway, and how much more outrageous it could possibly get. While Timbers and Friedman were content with keeping this unorthodox musical off-Broadway, it seems that some producers had other ideas. But given the larger-than-life figure and epic issues that the show tackles, taking them to a larger stage actually seems appropriate. Just so long as the core material remains inappropriate to many.
While strutting in front of the audience just before the first song kicks in, Jackson proclaims: “I’m wearing some tight, tight jeans, and tonight we’re delving into some serious, serious shit.” And the show’s website declares, “History just got all sexypants”. Indeed Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is not only fun but thought-provoking and a great modern musical to shake things up a little along the Great White Way.