Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson - Notes from the Director

Eat Sweet Democracy

Born down in a dead man’s town, the first kick I took was when I hit the ground.

End up like a dog that’s been beat too much, till you spend half your life just covering up.

Born in the USA…I’m a cool rocking daddy in the USA.

~ Bruce Springsteen

After we mounted our first musical:  Return to the Forbidden Planet in 2004/05, I kept getting asked:  “when are you going to do it again?” After we did it again in 2013, I kept getting asked:  “when are you going to do another musical?”  Welcome to 2016 and the ASC’s next rock musical.

One of the amazing challenges in picking non-Shakespeare plays for the American Shakespeare Center, (for performances at home in the Blackfriars Playhouse and on the road in theatres, performing arts centers, and universities across the country) is finding shows that will thrive in Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions, even though the plays were not written to be performed with the lights on the audience, for a thrust stage, for a style that includes the audience in the world of the play, and for directly addressing that lit audience.  But we’ve had some remarkable successes:  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Importance of Being Earnest, Cyrano de Bergerac, Arms and the Man, Wittenberg, Return to the Forbidden Planet, and others.  Part of the joy in mounting Return to the Forbidden Planet both times is that we took a rock and roll musical and did it totally unplugged with acoustic instruments and we cast actor/musicians who could sing all the parts, play all the instruments, act all the roles, AND have the chops to play all the Shakespeare characters in 4 other plays in true rotating repertory.  Choosing the ASC’s second musical in our 28-year history was fairly daunting.  But BBAJ seemed to be a great call not only because of its catchy melodies and topical subject matter, but also because I thought we could tell this rock and roll story with twelve performers doing all of the acting/singing/playing with the multi-talented Chris Johnston as the Music Director.  We chose to put BBAJ in the ASC 2016 Summer/Fall Season over a year and a half ago, believing that an election year was ideal timing.  And yet, we had no idea at the time that the political primary season would add so much more relevance to the journey of the play.

My Mom will not like this play.  This play has a bunch of f-bombs (and other colorful language) woven through it.  My Mom tells me all the time that “people don’t really talk like that.”  Ya, Mom, we do.

Nearly a decade before Lin-Manuel Miranda captured the imagination of millions by telling the story of a U.S. Founding Father through hip-hop music in Hamilton, Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers used rock and roll to craft Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.  Friedman and Timbers created a multi-layered piece far more complex and challenging than it might appear on the surface.

In this telling of history (sort of), Jackson is a charismatic frontiersman who weathers a traumatic childhood to fight for the populist rights of the middle class as our young nation pushes West.  The play is comic (and often cartoony) in tone as it breaks into song and then back to sharp and snarky dialogue to reveal the similarities of early 19th century government and the political circus of today.  BBAJ is the kind of modern take on American history that feels like a contemporary writer crafting heroes and anti-heroes out of historical figures while taking pot-shots along the way, just like Shakespeare did in his day.  Jackson was one of the first semi-politicians whose message was that Washington needed to be wrestled away from the elite and “given back to the regular Joe’s.”  He inspired a generation to get involved, to fight the status quo, to break the machine, to join a revolution.  AND he was a genocidal maniac who slaughtered the Spanish in Florida and who tried to murder or remove all Native Americans from the eastern half of North America. Somehow, Friedman and Timbers tackle this sometimes-heavy subject matter and make it fun.  Although they wrote the play with thoughts of Reagan, Clinton, both Bush’s, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party in mind, you can’t help but see the Donald, Bernie, and Hillary in here too.  This show is a delightful hoot that makes you think (and feel) about all the silliness and seriousness of Jackson's era and our own.  And, of course, it’s only rock and roll.

Doing this play during an election year in rep with two other plays about power-hungry politicos – King Lear and The Rise of Queen Margaret (Henry VI, Part 2) – makes our 2016 Summer/Fall Season a tasty banquet you shouldn’t miss.  Come to BBAJ for the amazing rock and roll.  Stay for the wicked fun you’ll find at how much 2016 feels like the early 19th century.  And don’t bring your young kids (or your Mom) unless you’re ok with us spewing a bunch of 4-letter words around them like an R-rated movie.

I've been knocking on the door that holds the throne

I've been looking for the map that leads me home

I've been stumbling on good hearts turned to stone

The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone

We take care of our own, wherever this flag's flown

We take care of our own

~ Bruce Springsteen

Jim Warren

Artistic Director and Co-founder