“Bloody” Awesome Andrew Jackson

With our recent government shutdown, there could not be a better time to watch the rock musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” Presented by UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts, originally written by Alex Timbers with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, “Bloody Bloody” creates a parallel between the rise of a prototypical rock and roll star and Andrew Jackson’s rise to presidency.

Director and choreographer Myrona DeLaney brilliantly captures the raw energy and angst of the early 1800s when young America was restless and looking for leadership. Andrew Jackson, played by Connor Bond, enters as a frontiersman and war hero from Tennessee who instantly gains popularity as a man of the people. Bond, with rock star looks, plays a truly convincing Jackson, and also does a commendable job at portraying the character’s larger-than-life personality. The Age of Jackson begins as he defunds America’s national bank, settles the tariff crisis and creates the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that leads to the tragic Trail of Tears.

However, since “Bloody Bloody” looks at these historical moments through the frame of contemporary pop culture, you will find yourself laughing hysterically throughout the show. For example, members of the political elite at the time, including Martin Van Buren, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams, are introduced in modern fashion-runway style with dance music playing in the background as they shake and flaunt their best moves. Van Buren especially, played by Anthony Simone, can be continuously seen eating Twinkies and making honest observations. Henry Clay, played by Zak Houston, speaks with a lisp the entire time and keeps the audience laughing. Aside from the political elite, many of Jackson’s followers speak like valley girls, implying they know little of his platform, yet swoon and support him like the cult following of 1970s legendary rock and roll band AC/DC. On the other hand, narrator Hayley Palmer truthfully tells the story until Jackson suddenly shoots her in the neck.

Jokes aside, complex subplots are seen throughout. For example, the friendship between Jackson and Black Fox reveals a human side to the historical villain. Additionally, Jackson and his wife, Rachel, adopt Lyncoya after his Native American mother is killed. Lyncoya becomes assimilated, yet feels torn once Jackson betrays Black Fox.

The rowdy political rally is seen in full effect with the set and costume design. The walls were covered with metal wavy sheets that made the set resemble a warehouse. A two-level scaffolding was used to display murdered Native Americans while a banner displaying “We the People” hangs above in the background. A live band performs on stage, with sultry bandleader Cait Scott. Cast members open with the energetic dance number “Populism, Yea, Yea!” The humorously dark “Ten Little Indians” was another sensational number that mocks the shameful reality of our country’s history. My personal favorite out of them though, was “Second Nature,” performed by Scott.

Forewarning: do not assume the play focuses on a single political phenomenon. When I saw the show, President Obama came to mind as Bond’s face was on posters resembling Obama’s iconic “Hope” poster. There were hidden messages throughout, as other posters flashed “Andrew W. Jackson” in reference to George W. Bush. The cast members also gestured with hand motions used by controversial presidents. There are many hidden messages and Easter eggs all pointing to the overall question: Justice for whom?

Opening weekend for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” was Nov. 9 and 10 at Claire Trevor Theater. You can catch the show Nov. 14-17 and join in on the discussion.