Not many musicals begin with the cast flipping the bird at the audience, but then not many musicals are like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the brash show that spins a tale of America’s seventh president to in-your-face Indie Rock tunes. (The “orchestra” for Know Theatre’s production is the local band The Dukes Are Dead.)
Jackson, president from 1829 to 1837, was known for his toughness and aggressive personality, and in Bloody Bloody he’s as much sexy Rock star as politician and man of the people. The show has a rabid, tongue-in-cheek tone from its opening moment (the rabble-rousing “Populism Yea Yea”) to the concluding number (a bouncy, raucous “Hunters of Kentucky”).
Jackson goes from an tentative adolescent in Tennessee whose parents are murdered by “Injuns” to a cocky military leader then on to serve as Governor of Florida (from whence he drove out most of the Native American population) and a presidential candidate, first unsuccessful and then a winner.
Eric Vosmeier, Know’s director, cast CCM drama grad Kellen York in the leading role, and he looks and acts the part, leaping and strutting around the stage as an “agent of change.” Unfortunately, he’s not even a moderately good singer, although he throws himself with abandon into ever number. Luckily a cast of excellent singers from several local universities round out the company, so you can lose sight of the show’s only serious flaw. Bloody Bloody especially clicks when Jackson interacts with historical figures (he calls them “doily-wearing muffin tops”) including John Calhoun (Matt Hill) and Martin van Buren (Chris Wesselman). Torie Wiggins plays an unctuous narrator in a wheelchair who Jackson dispatches when she becomes tiresome. As Jackson’s wife Rachel, Kelsey Crismon blends sass with masochism, then dies of grief when he ignores her wishes. (One character exclaims, “That kind of thing happened in the 19th century.”)
The show is a youthful mix of political commentary, driving Rock performances, history, humor and sober observations on the will of the people — just what we expect from Know Theatre. This is the show’s first professional regional production, and it will surely be the big hit of Know’s season.
BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati, continues through May 12.