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Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson: The Concert Version

Benjamin Walker gives a striking performance in the title role of Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman's brilliantly inventive musical about America's seventh president. logo
Benjamin Walker and Darren Goldstein
in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
(© Joan Marcus)
Surprises abound throughout Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson: The Concert Version, the remarkably inventive and often hilarious musical retelling of the life of America's controversial seventh president by Alex Timbers (who also directed) and composer-lyricist Michael Friedman, now at the Public Theater. For example, who knew Martin Van Buren (the hilarious Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) loved Twinkies? Or that the troubled Jackson (Benjamin Walker) once indulged in one of his ritual self-bleedings while Cher's "Song for the Lonely" played in the background.

More realistically, who knew that Walker -- who gave distinctly earnest performances in the recent Broadway revivals of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Inherit the Wind -- posseses the kind of rock star charisma to rival Adam Lambert. (True, some people in Los Angeles -- where Walker starred in an earlier and considerably longer version of this show -- might have that knowledge.) Not only is the actor's striking and surprisingly deeply felt performance a revelation, Walker turns out to be the kind of anchor needed to keep the musical's excesses from becoming overwhelming.

Indeed, the too-much-is-never-enough approach of theater collective Les Freres Corbusier -- whose previous outings include Boozy and Dance Dance Reviloution -- is evident from the moment one walks into the Shiva Theater to see the stage transformed into an overdecorated hunting lodge by set designer Donyale Werle. Over the next 100 minutes, just about anything goes on that stage, from dancing male Indians to girl-on-girl action to the presence of a wheelchair-bound lesbian (the superb Colleen Werthmann) who serves as our intermittent narrator and Jackson's occasional nemesis.

Yet, for all its sometimes dizzying post-modern approach to American history, the musical does illuminate some of the challenges the actual Jackson faced in his life, such as confronting the aristocratic Washington establishment who conspired to take the presidency away from him, his complex relationship with his wife Rachel (the fine Maria Elena Ramirez), and above all, his less-than-ideal solution to the so-called "Indian question" that threatened the country's stability in the first third of the 19th Century.

While most of our education about "the man who put the man in manifest destiny" comes from Timbers' clever script, Friedman's propulsive, emo-influenced score is an invaluable component of the show's success, often commenting on the action with wry detachment or lending an added element of passion.

Equally valuable is the large, hard-working, multi-tasking cast, which includes such expert actors as Darren Goldstein, Jeff Hiller, Lisa Joyce, Bryce Pinkham, and Ben Steinfeld shining in a variety of roles. Indeed, a more bloody good group of players would be hard to ask for.

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