Andrew Jackson prowls the stage in leather pants. A power chord fills the air.
“You ready?” he snarls.
Jackson was the seventh president of the United States, but this isn’t history class; it’s “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” an irreverent romp through the American political id. In this Washington University in St. Louis student production, stout “Old Hickory” — or “King Mob” to his enemies — is refashioned as a brooding indie-rock icon.
“This is a crazy, crazy show,” said Jeffery Matthews, professor of the practice in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences, who directs the musical that runs Nov. 14-23. “The humor is ironic and wicked and over-the-top. Think sketch comedy, or ‘South Park.’
“But it’s also quite clever, and an interesting window onto political emotionalism,” Matthews said. “If the U.S. was born in the Age of Reason, the 1830s could be considered our time of national adolescence.
“And Jackson was quintessentially American.”
Visceral and sarcastic
A war hero and a founder of the Democratic Party, Jackson is frequently ranked among the nation’s most consequential presidents. He was also a slave owner who ignored treaties with Native Americans, was responsible for the Trail of Tears and once killed a man for insulting his wife.
“Things begin very chaotic, very silly,” Matthews said. “But as Jackson ages and the death tolls mount, he is forced to deal with the weight of things. The play develops a much greater sense of seriousness and mortality.”
Yet within that arc, creators Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman cultivate a moment-to-moment sense of anarchy and emotional whiplash. Jackson flirts with cheerleaders. Jackson shares a too-intimate glance with Vice President Martin Van Buren. Feeling piqued, Jackson casually shoots his own storyteller in the neck.
“The play lives in that strange space between the visceral and the sarcastic,” Matthews said. “It can be ridiculous. It can be violent and jarring. But there’s always a point behind it. ‘Bloody Bloody’ suggests the kinds of things that the real Andrew Jackson, with his temper and tempestuousness, might actually have done.
“By the end, you’re left wondering whether Jackson was a great leader or an American Hitler,” Matthews said. “Or both.”
Cast and crew
The cast of 18 is led by Jon Freeman as Andrew Jackson, Caroline Leffert as Rachel Jackson and Danny Marshall as Van Buren. Kiki Milner is The Storyteller. Mitchell Manar is The Bandleader.
Alex Felder, Ben Harvey and Noah Weiner are John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and James Monroe, respectively. Eric Chao is John Quincy Adams. Matthew Goldkind is the Native American leader Black Fox. Jackson Wellmon is Lyncoya, Jackson’s adopted Native American son.
Alex Mason is the Male Soloist; Katie Greenberg is the Ten Little Indians Soloist. Rounding out the ensemble are Casey Lane, Hannah Marias, Talia Reich, Alessandra Silva and Namrata Vakkalagadda.
Jackson’s band includes Manar on guitar, along with drummer Wyatt Forhan, keyboardist Henry Palkes — who also serves as musical director — and on bass Washington University Provost H. Holden Thorp, PhD, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and the Rita Levi-Montalcini Distinguished University Professor.
Choreographer is Cecil Slaughter, professor of practice in dance. Scenic design is by Kayla Kroot; costumes are by Chloe Karmin and Alani Douglas. Lighting and sound are by Casey Hunter and senior lecturer Sean Savoie.
Stage manager is Robert Landis, with assistance from Ji Hyun Ahn and Melanie Stern. Make-up is by Vivienne Liu. Dramaturg is Danee Conley.
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” begins at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 14 and 15; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16. Performances continue the following weekend, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 21 and 22; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 23.
Performances take place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, located in Mallinckrodt Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd. Tickets are $15, or $10 for students, seniors and Washington University faculty and staff, and are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office.
For more information, call 314-935-6543.