Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Theater review: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson will make you love leather pants
Even if you didn't before, you will like leather pants now.
Frontier groupies? Check. Seductive bloodletting? Check. Tight leather pants? Check. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is not your average historical musical. Reformulating Andrew Jackson as an emo rock star complete with black eyeliner, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson takes its audience on a tongue-in-cheek ride through populism, the Indian Removal Act, and Jackson's relationship with his wife, Rachel, all the while drawing not-so-subtle comparisons between the politics of frontier days and modern times.
Ohlook's production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is extremely campy and terrifically fun. The cast is clearly enthusiastic about performing in the show, and the light-hearted tone lends itself well to ad-libbing. Even when things don't quite go as planned on stage (gaffs in hand-eye coordination, breaking character), the show doesn't suffer. Rather, it is all the more hilarious for the minor goofs.
One thing that is interesting about Ohlook is the number of productions it undertakes in a short period of time. Despite the condensed rehearsal process and quick production turnaround time, production value doesn't suffer. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is no exception as cast members are talented, and Director Jill Blalock Lord is clearly comfortable working in the small, intimate space.
John Davenport as Andrew Jackson is magnetic. As soon as he sets foot on stage, you feel yourself enveloped by his presence. Davenport has excellent eye contact, and has the rock star swagger and smolder down to an art form. When Davenport speaks, he is commanding and convincing and he deftly alternates between sulking, flippant camaraderie, and somberness throughout the show.
Lacey Jane Dangerstone as the Storyteller is marvelously awkward. Her gawky mannerisms, retainer-hampered speech, and artless attempts to fit in with the “cool” people make her character the antithesis of the mostly female chorus. In addition, her perfectly-timed reactions to Jackson disclose her enduring lust for him. She also has an odd talent for lying motionless for very long periods of time.
Woodie Blackburn plays some wonderfully flamboyant characters, including Martin Van Buren and an Indian chief. Blackburn is very charismatic, with an uncanny ability to smile with his eyes. Further, his ability to ad-lib is top-notch.
Sunshine Cadenhead, as Rachel Jackson, has a great look and great timing. She excels at dramatic acting and the alternating lust, pain, and anger she feels towards Andrew is palpable. Similarly, she is a good musician, though one must concentrate at times to clearly understand her words when she is singing.
Jake McCready, who memorably played Igor in Ohlook's recent production of Young Frankenstein, is equally impressive here as James Monroe and steals most of the scenes he is in with his physical dynamism and lilting cadence. James Worley is a strong, consistent actor and clearly differentiates the three roles he plays even when instantly switching between them. Preston Isham as Henry Clay has a commanding presence on stage and seems to truly enjoy himself, and Ryan King's childish, petulant airs as John Quincy Adams are amusing.
The on-stage interaction between Mitch Allison as Black Fox and Matthew Vinson as Lyncoya is convincing and bittersweet. The members of the Female Ensemble always look like they are having flirtatious groupie fun, though one girl seems a bit concerned about showing too much (she needn't worry), and her constant costume adjustments become distracting.
The production’s set design is simplistic yet effective for the small theatre space. Set pieces consist of a desk, a table, and a few chairs. Campaign posters and propaganda comparing Jackson to a terrorist are pasted on the walls to add a bit of edge and some additional food for thought.
The lighting design is similarly uncomplicated. It is a bit dim at times yet clearly defines the action on stage. I fully credit it for my delayed notice of the Storyteller lying on stage for a good portion of the show.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a musical and the band is obviously very talented. The band plays onstage, which adds its own set of challenges to the performance. First, singers can't see the musicians so it becomes the responsibility of the musician to follow and the responsibility of the actor to connect with the music. Second, being in the thick of the action can become distracting for musicians when playing. These challenges are well-met by all of the performers in this production and the band members become part of the ensemble.
The music itself is rock 'n' roll, and the lyrics are delectably naughty. The performers sing with less wide-eyed energy and a lower desire to be liked than in most musicals, which helps the audience identify with the characters more fully. Voices are strong, and the performances break the fourth wall to fully immerse the audience. Particularly memorable numbers are Davenport's “I'm Not That Guy” and “I'm So That Guy,” and “Ten Little Indians.”
Whenever I think about the costuming of this show, one phrase immediately runs through my mind: “I REALLY like leather pants.” I don't think I did before, but now I certainly do. In all seriousness, though, prior to this show I hadn't fully considered how greatly the garb of a rock star lends to his or her potency. While Davenport's performance is strong on its own, Costumers Hannah Blalock and Jill Blalock Lord are to be commended for identifying garments that embody vigor and for clothing him accordingly. The cut of other actors' costumes and certain details, such as fringe, give an idea of the time period, but also draw comparisons between frontier clothing styles and both '70s and more modern clothing styles. The supporting cast members all play a multitude of roles, but costume changes are wisely eschewed in favor of minor additions or subtractions from the main costume. An Indian may look like Martin Van Buren in a headdress at times, but this only adds to the camp ... in a good way.
During the performance, there is some smoking on stage and since the space is small, you're more likely to be affected by it. If you think this will bother you, it will be less noticeable if you sit in house right.
Packed with innuendo, brimming with social and political commentary, and rife with cheap shots against iconic American historical figures, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson may not be for the easily offended. However, the script is not preachy and any potential minor irritations are far overshadowed by the humor, engaging tone, and one pointed truth—that our politics have always been divided. This is why Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson might just convince theatregoers to crack open a history book.
In a nutshell, the play is campy, the performances are lively and diverting, the venue is casual, and, all in all, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a wonderfully fun time to be had. Personally, I'm looking forward to all of the late night productions Ohlook can throw at me.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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