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Regional Reviews by Nancy Grossman

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
SpeakEasy Stage

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Gus Curry and Ensemble
When presidential candidate Bill Clinton donned dark sunglasses and tooted the saxophone on "The Arsenio Hall Show" in 1992, he was channeling his inner rock star and connecting with an important segment of the electorate that may have contributed to his victory months later. When he took the stage at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, to make the case for re-electing Barack Obama, Clinton proved that he still has that star quality. There aren't many Commanders-in-Chief who fit the mold of rock star, but the SpeakEasy Stage Company's Boston premiere of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson makes a very strong case that our seventh president also had the necessary characteristics and personal charisma to lay claim to the mantle.

With a book by Alex Timbers and music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson reimagines the life of "Old Hickory," using an emo-rock score performed by four onstage musicians with the music direction and keyboards of Nicholas James Connell, ably assisted by several members of the ensemble filling in on other instruments. Gus Curry fronts the youthful cast that includes many newcomers to the SpeakEasy Stage, and features Mary Callanan, fresh off two years touring with the national company of Mamma Mia!, as The Storyteller. Curry is ideal in the role of the maverick president whose claims to fame include founding the Democratic Party and shafting the Native American population in the name of Manifest Destiny. He infuses Jackson with a mix of audacity, cheekiness, vulnerability, rage, humor, machismo and more than a little sex appeal.

Director Paul Melone marshals his talented actor/singers to fill the entire production with energy and passion, starting with the company's opening number "Populism Yea Yea." Delivered with an in-your-face posture, it sounds like an anthem for the Tea Party with lyrics about taking the country back and standing against the elite. At its conclusion, the Storyteller rides in on her electric wheelchair to begin her embellished narration of Jackson's early years. Callanan's tongue-in-cheek performance, vaguely reminiscent of Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone, is one of the highlights of the opening scenes.

Friedman's songs advance the plot and are primarily of the rock genre, although "Crisis Averted" has a country flavor. In addition to Curry's strong vocals, Alessandra Vaganek as Jackson's wife Rachel has a powerful impact with "The Great Compromise," and bandleader Connell steps away from the piano for the lament "Second Nature." Amy Jo Jackson, memorable in last season's SpeakEasy production of Nine, fronts the female ensemble in the haunting "Ten Little Indians," and Evan Murphy handles the duties as male soloist.

Comic skills abound, but Joshua Pemberton (Martin Van Buren), Ryan Halsaver (John Calhoun) and Tom Hamlett (John Quincy Adams) are deserving of special mention. Two youngsters share the role of Jackson's adopted son Lyncoya. At the press opening, Brandon Barbosa effectively charmed the audience. (Samil Battenfeld is his counterpart.) Diego Klock-Perez handles the role of Black Fox, Jackson's Indian liaison, with depth and sensitivity. Rounding out the ensemble are Michael Levesque (Red Eagle), Ben Rosenblatt (James Monroe) and Brittany Walters (Elizabeth)

All of the actors move well, showing off Larry Sousa's choreography and Angie Jepson's fight choreography. A bar fight between Jackson and his men against a table of Spaniards is especially well executed. Eric Levenson's set is a series of metal grids hung with various props, tools, pots and pans, and sporting equipment. A small set piece stage left doubles as Jackson's home and the nation's capital. A liberal use of red lighting by Jeff Adelberg serves as metaphor for blood and anger. Sound Designer Eric Norris provides an evocative "whoosh/thunk" whenever someone is felled by an arrow. Costumes by Elisabetta Polito run the gamut from frontier wear to military uniforms, cutaway coats and lacy collared shirts to Callanan's anachronistic Jackson t-shirt and pink Crocs.

After workshop productions in Williamstown and New York, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson had a full production in May, 2009, Off-Broadway at the Public Theater in New York. In September, 2010, the show moved to Broadway where it earned Tony Award nominations for Best Book and Best Scenic Design, a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical, and concluded its run in January, 2011, after 94 total performances. Like many of the shows selected by Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson feels like a perfect match for SpeakEasy Stage Company. If you agree, cast your ballot before November 17th.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson performances through November 17 at SpeakEasy Stage Company, Roberts Studio Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.speakeasystage.com.

Written by Alex Timbers, Music & Lyrics by Michael Friedman, Directed by Paul Melone, Music Direction by Nicholas James Connell, Choreography by Larry Sousa, Fight Choreography by Angie Jepson, Scenic Design by Eric Levenson, Costume Design by Elisabetta Polito, Lighting Design by Jeff ADelberg, Sound Design by Eric Norris; Production Stage Manager, Amy Spalletta; Assistant Stage Manager, Katherine Clanton

Cast: Brandon Barbosa, Samil Battenfeld, Mary Callanan, Nicholas James Connell, Gus Curry, Ryan Halsaver, Tom Hamlett, Amy Jo Jackson, Diego Klock-Perez, Michael Levesque, Evan Murphy, Joshua Pemberton, Ben Rosenblatt, Alessandra Vaganek, Brittany Walters


Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo



- Nancy Grossman



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