SALT LAKE CITY — Remember those times in high school history when your teacher would say something really interesting like, “Andrew Jackson’s wife was actually already married to someone else when he married her”? But when you asked for details on the bigamy, he didn’t know, and the more important thing to remember was how the outcome of the War of 1812 affected trade relations with the Indians, anyway? Well, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson will finally fill your thirst for unconventional historical knowledge. Salt Lake Acting Company is currently showing a juicy history lesson that is guaranteed to provide a night of fun for all ages (of adult maturity).
The logs dangling vertically from both sides of the stage (Keven Myhre) were instantly reminiscent of a log cabin or a forest. There was a definite frontier vibe going on. The rest of the set was simple, with no more than one or two pieces of furniture onstage at any given time. The band filled the back of the stage (led by music director David Evanoff, with Van Christensen on the drums, Nick Fleming on guitar, and Adam Overacker on bass).
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson proceeds entirely in this oddly juxtaposed vain: The story by Alex Timbers and music and lyrics by Michael Friedman present a world of anachronisms and harsh realities doused in black humor. At one point, Rachel Jackson (played by Jessica Kennedy) asks her husband to stop leaving her to pursue war and politics. Andrew Jackson (J.C. Ernst) begs her to understand, “Look Rachel, I love you, but I also gotta kill the entire Native population.” The script and lyrics occasionally point out the obvious in ways that are bizarrely profound. Andrew Jackson’s conversations with the Storyteller (Annette Wright, hilarious dressed in the kind of seasonally decorated vest my third grade teacher wore daily) provide fantastically overt interactions between the past and the present, but many of the juxtapositions are more subtle.
Ernst played Andrew Jackson in a manner reminiscent of a frustrated teen that made me alternatively want to strangle him (He was always heavily armed, so I would have failed.) and feel bad for him. This Andrew Jackson had some scores to settle with the political elite, the Native population, everyone who wasn’t American, and also everyone who disagreed with him generally. But he also truly loved his country and the frontier, and he was ready to dedicate his life to giving the common people the support he believed they deserved from their government. Even, and especially, if that meant he would need to kill entire races of people against the demands of popular and legal opinions. In his own words, “The people aren’t gonna stop Andrew Jackson from doing what the people want.”
Director Keven Myhre obviously had a lot of fun merging the early 19th and 21st centuries. At any given moment, one character might be on his cell phone while others were discussing the national bank. No matter what Myhre did with them, every actor was fun to watch, and I never felt like any of them fell short. Thanks to voice and dialect coach Adrianne Moore, the actors even managed to make switches between accents appropriate for 19th century frontiersmen, 21st century tourists, and posh New Englanders that were entertaining instead of distracting.
Brenda Van der Wiel and K.L. Alberts’s costume designs had characters wearing a mad jumble of cowboy boots, short skirts and skinny jeans, and the odd feather or period accessory. The political elite dressed in the suits you’d expect to see a snooty nineteenth century New Englander wearing; the Indians dressed and danced just like the ones in Disney’s Peter Pan; Andrew Jackson wore very tight jeans; and at one point Rachel wore a fragment of a hoop from a hoop skirt. The costumes were constantly interesting to look at and added to the play’s commentary. Cynthia Fleming’s choreography had a similar effect of mixing time periods. Actors alternated between yielding rifles and cheering with pom-poms, between pole dancing and dancing like cartoon Indians. Amazingly, the actors made each style a pleasure to watch.
My only complaint was that occasionally I thought the sound balance was off. I couldn’t always hear the vocalists over the guitars. Since it was a rock musical, though, it’s quite possible that having the guitars drowning out the vocals was intentional. If his goal was to imitate the sound of a rock concert while still making the words generally discernible, Josh Martin (sound design) got it exactly right. Either way, it wasn’t a major hindrance to enjoying the show.
Every member of the production was extremely talented, and I felt privileged to see their efforts combined. That said, I wouldn’t recommend this production to everyone. I tried to make it clear in my title, but if you’re still wondering, let me spell it out for you: If you’re offended by foul language or sexual humor, this show is not for you. But if you weren’t put off by that caution, then this show guarantees a good time. SLAC’s production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson mingled a surprising amount of historically accurate information with a steady stream of laughs and musical numbers. The effect was a mashup of education and entertainment that would make any history teacher proud.