Theater Reviews

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Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City
Through Feb. 17

If it's not obvious after withstanding an intermissionless 140 minutes of didactic, junior high school-style theatrical tableaux, a note in the program book explains that "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" is more than just entertainment. The work is receiving its world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Penned by Carl Byker, who directed a documentary on "Old Hickory" for PBS, the note claims that Jackson is a burning political issue among today's teens -- many of whom "view Jackson as almost an American Adolf Hitler" -- and warns readers that 150 years from now people will hold not "just the president but all of us responsible for the choices" that will be made in the upcoming presidential election.

Also in the program book, a one-sided series of "Andrew Factual Jackson" factoids from dramaturg Mike Sablone (if you've ever wondered what dramaturges do) completes the historical background for audience members and sets the stage for a rowdy combination of historical high jinks and musical cliches that may delight the teens for whom this seems to be primarily intended.

It's obvious that the creators of this enthusiastic rock musical intend parallels with the current president (in the title role, Benjamin Walker's inability to pronounce "indissoluble" is one of the high points of the evening). Should parents be concerned about any political messages that will stay with their offspring more than 10 minutes, the parallels are so fuzzy that the message imprinted on impressionable minds is anybody's guess.

The performance by tall, dark and handsome Walker creates a tower of amoral strength as he strides across the stage and into history, brandishing pistols, swords and microphones in an aggressive series of song-and-dance routines, while murdering and relocating American Indians, creating a new party and liberating the White House from Eastern Establishment toadies such as Monroe (Ben Steinfeld), Calhoun (Adam O'Byrne) and Van Buren (Brian Hostenske). Van Buren's curiously mincing ways make him an immediate audience favorite. Walker is less effective at showing occasional intellectual and emotional confusion and remorse, which generally appears in the migraine-free dimensions of Val-think.

The company, most of whom are called upon to play many roles, shows no lack of energy or talent, but it's mostly subordinate to the raucous, shrill tone of the proceedings. Anjali Bhimani does a valiant job in her role as Jackson's conflicted first lady, struggling to withstand Walker's steamroller performance.

That the production comes across as professional as it does is a tribute to the work done by choreographer Kelly Devine, who along with director Alex Timbers, keeps the generally nonstop action flowing with dramatic purpose and powerful pace and bring us a fey Indian ballet set to Tchaikovsky. Robert Brill's set is a marvel of invention -- based on a museum, complete with a wonderful diorama and a stuffed alligator -- and flexibility. Emily Rebholz's exuberant, colorful costumes are wonderful as well, including Elizabethan neck ruffs for the Eastern politicos.

Michael Friedman's music, if not particularly memorable, is loud and lots of fun in a theme park kind of way, alluding to both contemporary and historical styles and sentiments. Its seamless integration with the story is a real strength of the production.

BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON
Presented by Center Theatre Group and the Public Theater
Credits:
Playwright: Alex Timbers
Music and lyrics: Michael Friedman
Director: Alex Timbers
Choreographer: Kelly Devine
Set designer: Robert Brill
Costume designer: Emily Rebholz
Lighting designer: Jeff Croiter
Sound designer: Bart Fasbender
Music direction and orchestrations: Gabriel Kahane
Projection designer: Jake Pinholster
Casting: Bonnie Grisan
Dramaturg: Mike Sablone
Cast:
Andrew Jackson: Benjamin Walker
Rachel: Anjali Bhimani
Monroe: Ben Steinfeld
Calhoun: Adam O'Byrne
Van Buren: Brian Hostenske
John Quincy Adams: Matthew Rocheleau
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