Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Bloody Good Production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Also see Richard's reviews of An Iliad and Of Thee I Sing

Michael Barrett Austin, El Beh, Ashkon Davaron, Angel Burgess and Lucas Hatton
SF Playhouse is now called San Francisco Playhouse and for the start of their tenth season they are presenting the 2010 Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in a new 240-seat theatre. This is a bold mix of historical fact and fiction about America's controversial seventh president, Andrew Jackson.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a fantastic history lesson Led Zeppelin-style, presented by 14 rocking musicians. You won't be bored by this energetic group with full-out rock songs, historical vignettes, and ballads, all at breakneck speed.

Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman and book by Alex Timbers provide a rebellious spirit of a step beyond Hair, Tommy and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This is a new generation musical aimed at the young at heart. It's a thinking man's musical. The question is, was Andrew Jackson a deviant, unethical American anomaly or a savvy, self-aware guy who did what he had to do to move this country forward? In other words, was he a "Man of the People" or "America's Hitler"?

Perhaps the most ironic and bitter song in this fast-paced 100-minute show is "Ten Little Indians," sung with perfection by El Beh, on cello, and the ensemble. This is a savage indictment of Jackson for his decision to forcibly relocate most Indian tribes, leading to countless deaths on the Trail of Tears.

Ashkon Davaran is charismatic as Andrew Jackson. He is able to portray this grandiose figure full out, with pompous strutting around the stage in true rocker fashion even as he tells the audience at the beginning, "we're delving into some serious, serious shit. I'm Andrew Jackson. I'm your president. Let's go." His Southern accent highlights the hicks as opposed to the emerging political huckster. He fully gets into his songs with his dynamic voice. Jackson even shoots the play's storyteller, played wonderful by Ann Hopkins, early on since he wants to take over the telling of the story of his life.

Angel Burgess gives a radiant performance as Rachael Jackson, Andrew's sensuous yet religious wife. She shows that Rachel is a very sad woman and seems to be in a world of her own. Whether singing of not wanting a public life with her husband or telling him goodbye, Burgess keeps this character very controlled, focused and inward. She gives a standout performance.

William Elsman, one of the best Shakespearean actors in the Bay Area, gives a great performance as John C. Calhoun and is also a rocking good drummer in the band. Safiya Fredericks portrays Black Fox with stoicism and pride and not as a stereotype. Michael Barrett Austin gives a spotless performance as the foppish Martin Van Buren and show vibrant vocal cords in the number "Second Nature." Lucas Hatton as James Monroe, Olive Mitra as John Quincy Adams, and James Smith-Wallis as Lyncoya are first class in their roles and have great vocal chops.

Director Jon Tracy and musical director Jonathan Fadner navigate the script's many anachronisms and seductive flourishes with operatic flair. The costume design of Abra Berman and Tatjana Genser is a mishmash of early 19th century functional attire and rock star glam. Ashkon Davaran is made to look like Alice Cooper. Kurt Landisman's psychedelic lighting design is full out and encompassing. Nina Ball's three-level metal scaffolding set is perfect for a rock musical.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs through November 24 at the company's new location at 450 Post Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-677-9596 or visit Opening next will be John Van Druten's Bell, Book and Candle opening on December 8th.

Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema