by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The Koegler Family Foundation and International Spirits present the rock musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” at Players by the Sea, on stage through August 3rd in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. For information and reservations visit playersbythesea.org or call (904) 249-0289.
This is a wild and woolly musical look at the life of the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, also known as Old Hickory. It should be a production of special interest to North Florida residents since Jacksonville was named after him in 1822, and we have an Andrew Jackson High School here in town.
If you’re looking for historical perspective viewed through a contemporary lens, are open-minded, and like your musicals vigorous, splashy, and perfervid, then Players is the place for you to go. Don’t expect a docudrama; the script is irreverent and revels in historical controversy, much of which remains relevant today.
The Timbers and Michael Friedman musical starts with Jackson’s childhood in the hills of Tennessee, when he is orphaned at age 13 by Indian raids and cholera. We follow him as he volunteers to fight the Indians in his home state, then moves on to fight the Spanish in Florida and the British in the famous Battle of New Orleans.
This show opened in New York in 2010, ran for 120 performances, and received two Tony nominations. We saw the show in New York and had mixed reactions. We can say without reservation that in our opinion, the version by Players was better in a number of ways.
When you think of a rock musical, the first thing that comes into your mind is LOUD MUSIC! And it was very, very distractingly loud in New York. Players’ musical Director JOCELYN GERONIMO and her band, along with Technical Director JIM WIGGINS, have done a fabulous job of presenting the songs with razzle-dazzle inventiveness without resorting to decibels that blast you out of your seat while searching for earplugs. Each scene takes you by surprise and each song takes you for a whirl.
Another reason we enjoyed the version by Players more than Broadway version is that Players has made it easy for patrons to brush up on Jackson’s background pre-show, with large informative panels filling the walls of the Grune Family Gallery. So plan to arrive 30 to 45 minutes before the curtain, and you will be able to learn more about old AJ than you ever imagined you would want to know. It will certainly help you enjoy the show. Thanks to the Jacksonville Historical Society for making this available to Players.
The fourteen member cast is headed by NICHOLAS SACKS, who is currently a Musical Theatre student at Carnegie Mellon University. As Andrew Jackson, he is on stage for almost all of its two-hour running time. Mr. Sacks is marvelous in what amounts to a visceral workout and a bravado physical and vocal performance. This will come as no surprise to Jacksonville audiences, as he has appeared in many leading roles throughout the area in the past. Sacks could do this role in any theatre in the country, he is that good.
DANIEL AUSTIN is cast as both an outstandingly brash Band Leader and Martin Van Buren, Jackson’s best political friend. A graduate of UF, he previously appeared at Players as Claude in “Hair”. He provides interpretive commentary – most often snappy and satirical, and always assured – and sings throughout .
“Bloody Bloody” has an outstanding supporting cast that is especially adept at comic material. Making her impressive Players debut as Jackson’s wife Rachel, JENNIFER JOHNSTON has two Alhambra Theatre credits on her resume. This play has a narrator, MEGAN RENE GEORGEO, as The Storyteller, who comically comments on the remembered events of Jackson’s life.
You will learn that Jackson had a very strong dislike of Indians and treated them poorly, but in an unusual moment of compassion rescued an orphaned Indian child. Lyncoya, his adopted son, is portrayed by DANTE GONZALEZ, who, though only going into fourth grade this fall, already has an impressive three plays at Players on his resume.
Jackson’s Indian ally, Black Fox, who helps him persuade various tribes to relocate, is played with gusto by newcomer RYAN ARROYO. Old Hickory started a militia to uproot the Southeast Indian Tribes, mostly by force. Some famous men, whose names you will know, are concerned about Jackson’s illegal land expansion. They include John Quincy Adams (TREY LEWEK) James Monroe (HARRISON BREAULT), John C. Calhoun (BRANDON MAYES) and Henry Clay (JOSHUA TAYLOR). Their performances were flawlessly exaggerated in as fine a piece of comic work as we have ever seen.
CHRISTY MULL, a recent graduate of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, will be attending the University of Miami this fall as a BFA Musical Theatre student. In this Jacksonville farewell performance, she plays a role listed only as a female soloist. She gets to sing one of the best songs in the show, “Ten Little Indians”, and is also involved in a number of interesting scenarios, with ABIGAIL SANEZ, SADIE LAMANA, and ANNA WHEELER, three very busy ensemble members.
“Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” is not a big dance show but Choreographer JESS PILMORE and her assistant JESSE JACOBSON have captured the intensity and zaniness of the story. Director RON SHREVE and the choreographers obviously worked very closely together as there is so much movement in this show it all appears choreographed.
Director Shreve made sure that the action roars down the track like a bullet train. There is never an uneventful moment, something is always happening. Stage Manager KAT MCLEOD and her assistant SARA BISHOP help keep things moving along with all the Ron Shreve designed costume changes and various props. The costumes were outstanding, and looked as though they belonged in a featured spread in Vogue magazine.
The excellent design by BRIAN GRANT and the director added period atmosphere. We liked the way the red curtain was open, as the pre-show audience was able to savor the fine details of the set, which included period artifacts set in frames mounted against a strong blue background. CARL VORWERK’S light design enhanced the onstage jubilation.
The pounding tunes and the swaggering actors make for an interesting summer diversion. It is a rock-pop musical that is stirring and surprising in many ways, for example Jackson uses a cell phone in one scene, and wears some bloody bloody tee shirts. Due to adult language and content, Players website advises the content is suitable for age 16 and older only.
We liked our New York experience with “Bloody” Bloody”, but we can truthful say we really enjoyed this excellent production. Don’t miss it.
BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM