Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Complex, conflicted figures usually make for good drama, and so it is in the Custom Made Theatre Co. production of Alex Timbers' (book) and Michael Friedman's (music and lyrics) Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. There's a lot going wrong with this production, but the show at its core is a good one: 90 intermissionless minutes of snarky humor, rock music, and 19th century history. Think of it as "Schoolhouse Rock" with F-bombs.
Director (and Custom Made's artistic director) Brian Katz has staged this version with a punk/goth sensibility: there is as much black lipstick and nail polish, piercings, and torn stockings as you might find at a Death Cab for Cutie concert. In the role of Andrew Jackson, James Grady is heavily tatted and mascara-ed, and brings an appropriately detached, too-cool-for-school sort of air to the role. But, like most of the cast, he can't sing very well.
Still, it's easy to overlook the flat notes when one remembers the punk aesthetic that pervades this production. Punk is always more about attitude than it is musicianship. And Katz has definitely told his cast to let their attitudes run uncheckedin part because it matches the post-modern wry attitude of Timbers' text. I'm certain the historic Andrew Jackson never said "Life sucksand my life sucks in particular," nor made any campaign commitment that sounded anything like, "I promise to always stop when you use the safe word." Neither did 19th century Americans suggest that "direct democracy is totes lame," and Martin Van Buren never said "That was just laissez-unfair!"
The cast, despite having only a couple of reasonably strong singers, seems to be having a great time presenting this rather arch history lesson disguised as a musical. Chris Morrell plays Martin Van Buren with a delightfully toadying attitude, Caitlyn Prather brings boundless energy to her roles, and Nick Mandracchia's outsized persona (and body) provide a lovely bit of spice for this stew. Overall, the cast is well-balancedno spectacular breakthrough performances, but no real dark clouds, either.
There are many ways this production could have been better. The band could be both a little tighter and a lot louder, the singers could have been on pitch a lot more often, and Katz's blocking could have been a little less haphazard. But there is such a DIY charm to thisthe storyteller on a scooter, the road cases that function as building blocks for a set, the cheesy sound effect of an arrow finding its mark every time a character diesthat it wormed its way into my heart despite its many faults.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs through October 27, 2019, at Custom Made Theatre Co., 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco CA. Shows are Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., with matinees Sundays at 2:00 p.m. In addition, there will be 7:30 p.m. performances on October 16 and 23. Tickets range from $20-$55, and are available at www.custommade.org.