Who The Redhouse
Where 201 S. West St. Syracuse, NY
When Through October 19th
Tickets $30/$20 for members
Review by Nick Reichert
“I’m wearing some tight, tight jeans and tonight we’re delving into some serious, serious shit. I’m Andrew Jackson. I’m your President. Let’s go!” And with that opening declaration, the Redhouse’s production of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” launches a whiskey filled and adrenaline-fueled rocket of a comedic musical. Director Stephen Svoboda and company deliver an alternative history lesson worth hearing over and over again.
With music and lyrics by Michael Friedman and book by Alex Timbers, “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” uses the life of the United States’s seventh president Andrew Jackson as a vehicle for an intelligent, sexy and riotous satire of the American condition. This is the musical Trey Parker and Matt Stone of “South Park” would have made if they were obsessed with “Old Hickory” and not Mormons.
Although the musical doesn’t present the entirety of Andrew Jackson’s story, it focuses on three pillars of Jackson’s life. Jackson’s changing of American politics with populist democracy, his part in killing and displacing thousands of Native Americans, and his becoming the first self-made American celebrity figure.
Mr. Jackson himself is played with presidential amounts of charisma and sexiness by Brian Detlefs. Detlefs portrays Jackson with a complex dramatic and musical range. From strutting around stage like a rock god in numbers like “Rock Star” and “I’m So That Guy” to presenting blooming vulnerability in songs such as “Public Life” and “Second Nature,” Detlefs is able to match and embody the persona of a president with the most simultaneously triumphant and tragic of legacies.
Other standouts include Allie Villa as Rachel Jackson, the President’s provocative wife. Villa’s duet with Detlefs on “Illness As Metaphor” is a bloody comic satire on the 19th century’s language of courtship and provides a female foil to balance Jackson’s bravado.
Chris Baron as Jackson’s vice president Martin Van Buren is a charismatic scene stealer that produces laughter at every turn. Baron and his political cohort of Henry Clay (Tyler Spicer), James Monroe (Jacob Sharf), John Calhoun (Eric Feldstein), and John Quincy Adams (Ben Wells) nearly bring the entire house to its knees in fits of hilarity in “The Corrupt Bargain.” As the out-of-touch and elitist Congressional insiders, the politicians are aristocratic and pompous debutantes. They are an uproarious contrast to Jackson’s rebellious and populist grit.
The biggest surprise comes from the production’s band, led by Patrick Burns. Burns and his squad of young musicians provide the necessary power to provide the voltage for this rock musical. Burns’s voice soars over “Second Nature” and delivers a much needed touch of sincerity and seriousness accompanying a heartbreaking tableau of Native Americans during Jackson’s notorious Trail of Tears.
The whole production tastes of leather, punk rebellion and unadulterated Americana. The Redhouse’s intimate setting accentuates the punk rock club aesthetic of Tim Brown’s scenic design with bare bones wood paneling, dive-bar neon accents, and a gritty American flag backdrop on a giant warehouse door. Nikkie Delhomme’s costume design matches the musical’s farcical nature with simplistic pioneer/rock star outfits for Jackson and his supporters contrasting with the flowery powdered wigs and coattails of the aristocratic Washington D.C. insiders.
Director Stephen Svoboda’s production of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” is like a hickory tree, full of life with a tough skin. But underneath the sexy punk rock facade is a witty message needed now more than ever. It is a show that looks back at a very young America going through the throws of national adolescence. But we’re still obsessed with celebrity, we still love our individuality, and political infighting is our national pastime. That’s what makes “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” such a pertinent modern satire: America hasn’t grown up at all.