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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Arts West Excites with Vigorous
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson


Jeff Orton and the cast
Whatever else one can say about the brash, boisterous, and freewheeling musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson which opens Arts West's 2012-13 season, dull it ain't! And though I am of a mixed mind about Alex Timbers' satirically fanciful book, and Michael Friedman's frequently rousing and irreverently humorous emo rock score, they serve to illuminate the rarely talked about history of the 7th U.S. president, a man with real guts, passion and strong beliefs, and point up how relevant that history is to what's going on in U.S. politics today. Arts West's production, under the passionate direction and choreography of its Artistic Director Christopher Zinovitch, is performed with zeal and vocal ferocity by a notable cast, and flies by in 90 intermissionless minutes.

Cleverly painting Jackson as America's first rock-star president, the musical focuses on populism, the Indian Removal Act, and Jackson's stormy relationship with his wife Rachel, in a format at once flashy and hollow. Strong targets of derision are other notable political contemporaries of Jackson's, namely John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Martin Van Buren. Also pointed up is the conflicted relationship between Jackson and Black Fox—an Indian chief who organized the remaining tribes into a confederation against Tennessee settlers. The musical ultimately states that Jackson is viewed disparately as one of our great presidents and as an American Hitler for his part in the genocidal repercussions his actions took on the Indian tribes. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson has moments of chilling power that for me recall some of the best in Stephen Sondheim's controversial Assassins yet diminishes those moments with a history as vaudeville approach more suitable to lighter-toned tuners such as Barnum and The Will Rogers Follies.

Kody Bringman is a young talent to reckon with, bringing both vocal dynamism and acting chops to the title role. Meg McLynn imbues her Rachel Jackson with fire and heartbreak. Jeff Orton is strikingly impressive as the ultimately betrayed Black Fox, and child actor Morgan Gwilym So gives a remarkably mature and touching portrayal of Jackson's adopted son Lyncoya. Solid ensemble standouts include Mandy Price as a wacky tour-guide/storyteller, Robert Scherzer as an endearingly oafish Van Buren, and in a multitude of roles Cindy Bradder, Justin Huertas, and Brian Lange, with musician Bill Williams delivering a standout vocal in the show's penultimate number "Second Nature." Musical director Kimberly Dare has worked well bringing out solid cast vocals, as well as delivering the goods with her onstage musicians.

Director Zinovitch and Jill Beasley share credit for the production's colorfully trashy scenic design, and Anastasia Armes has supplied the flashily eclectic array of costumes. Sound designer Heidi Hunt was dealing with some rather deadly sound glitches at the opening, which were surely eliminated at future performances.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs at Arts West Playhouse in West Seattle through October 20th. For tickets or information contact the ArtsWest box office at 206-938-0339 or visit them online at www.artswest.org.


Photo: Michael Brunk



- David Edward Hughes



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