There were just a few too many things stacked up against ArtsWest's production of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" for me to completely get into it. With issues ranging from the technical to the presentation, I found it difficult to become immersed in this highly stylized tale. Yes, there were many fun and wonderful moments on opening night but they kept being overshadowed by a production that felt it could have used a little more ripening.
In BBAJ, what authors Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman have done is taken a loose history of our country's seventh President and portrayed his celebrity and potential lack of ability to execute the office with their Emo-rock musical score. Which may sound odd but works perfectly as Jackson was almost the equivalent of a Kardashian or any of our reality TV stars. He gained wide popularity due to his successes in the war and through circumstances and much blood, became Governor of Florida and eventually President of the United States on his platform of Populism. But it was that attitude of, "I'll do everything the people want" that ultimately becomes his downfall and labels him by some as one of our worst Presidents and whom some call the Hitler of America.
And as fun as this show is, unfortunately there were just a few too many problems with this production. Now I should say, I was lucky enough to see the New York production so I have that standard in my head but it went beyond that. The sound system just didn't seem to be up to snuff as mics would go in and out, come on late, not come on at all or in one climactic moment of the show, emit some kind of groan out of nowhere. And in a show where the lyrics really do an amazing job of conveying the story, this issue can be a death nail. Some of the staging needs to be rethought, as several times gags I knew were coming I almost missed through placement or timing. And for an emo-rock show there seemed to be a tentative energy to the evening, which this show should never have. Jackson is all about swagger and confidence and every moment of the show should be polished and intentional.
But problems aside, director Christopher Zinovitch has assembled and incredible ensemble led by a very charismatic Jackson in Kody Bringman. Bringman's voice is superb and his rock star swagger works well although I would have liked some more of the in your face sharpness the role needs. Lindsey Hedberg, EmilyRose Frasca, Meg McLynn and Cindy Brader turn in a haunting ode to the "Ten Little Indians" Jackson "negotiated" with. Justin Carrell, Justin Huertas, Brian Lange, Ryan McCabe and Robert Scherzer are hilarious as the foppish existing political elite that Jackson rails against. Jeff Orton has several amazing moments in the show but his face off as Black Fox was a stunner. And that's just a few highlights of the multitudes of characters these amazing performers came up with. And Morgan Gwilym Tso manages to portray a wonderful "wild child" as Jackson's adopted son, Lyncoya.
But I have to say my favorite elements of the show came from two of the remaining supporting players, one likely and one not so likely. Mandy Price practically steals every scene she's in as the Storyteller. Yes the role kind of lends itself well to that but Price manages to take it beyond the standard and into absolute hilarity. And turning in a surprising moment of subtle beauty, member of the band Bill Williams delivered the gorgeous final number of "Second Nature".
So with all this talent on the stage I can only hope that these drawbacks can be ironed out as the run continues. It's a great show and this production has the potential to shine. Jackson may not have been up to the job but I'm sure this cast is.
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" performs at ArtsWest through October 20th. For tickets or information contact the ArtsWest box office at 206-938-0339 or visit them online at www.artswest.org.