This season the American Shakespeare Center features King Lear and the Rise of Queen Margaret – stories of political people in olden times, but the Blackfriar’s Theater also offers a surprise – the tale of a rude, bawdy politician who promised a big change in Washington and became America’s president.
Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson tells the tale of this country’s 7th president – a man of the western frontier – Tennessee, who had plenty of prejudice. Early in the play, he tells a crowd of political supporters:
“There are four things in this world I hate – the English, the Spanish, Washington aristocrats, and then there’s the Indians.”
If – in this election year – you begin to think about the rise of Donald Trump, you’re not alone.
“Of course when we decided to do this, we did not know that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president,” says Artistic Director Jim Warren, “but he espouses many of the grass roots populist ideas that first came into the political scene under Andrew Jackson, and when you put that with this modern pop/rock sound track, it feels incredibly contemporary, and on that level it’s so perfect for a Shakespeare Company to be doing it, because that’s what Shakespeare did with his history. He took stuff right out of the history books and produced something that was a modern, popular, Elizabethan treatment of these historical characters.”
Warren says this is only the second time his Shakespearean troupe has done a musical.
“We toured with the Return to the Forbidden Planet which is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, set to rock ‘n roll music,” he explains. “It was so much fun and so popular, people kept saying, ‘When are you going to do the next musical?’
And when he saw Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson on Broadway, he knew this campy comedy would be a great fit.
Written as the tea party emerged in this country, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson exposes the limits of populism and the challenges of democratic government.
“This government is going to be about what the people want!” the character tells backers. “And what do the people want?”
“Pizza!” shouts the crowd.
Jackson replies: “What the people desire, Jackson delivers!”
The mix of 19th century history and 21st century popular culture makes for an amusing and fairly profane theater experience.
“It is a musical for everyone who doesn’t mind 38 F-bombs in the show,” says Jim Warren. “It’s got language that I think is perfect for teenagers unless you think that teenagers shouldn’t hear four-letter words.”
Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson runs through November 26th at the Blackfriar’s Theater in Staunton.