Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

This weekend while in Cincinnati visiting family, David and I went to see a really fun show at the Know Theatre. Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson tells the life story of our country’s seventh president, in a musical, comedic, in-your-face-with-history’s-ugliness kind of way. The main conflict is about the Indian Removal Act, which resulted in the “Trail of Tears” and the deaths of thousands. The show’s style was punk rock meets the Daily Show–modern steam-punk hipster costumes with singing and lots of jokes. Some of the best jokes involved Jackson whining like a three-year-old to get his way, and taking control of his narrative in a very meta way by shooting the obnoxious narrator character.

As you can guess, many of the show’s criticisms of Jackson and the politicians of his day are relevant to today’s Washington scene. There are at least two direct visual references to Bush and Obama; the “populism” song and sentiments seem to echo (or prefigure) the Occupy movement; and the portrayal of the “back room deal” that cost Jackson his first run at the presidency reminded me of 2000’s election.

The only criticism I feel I can make of the show was the star’s weak voice. As good as he looked in tight pants, he didn’t quite have the range or strength his role called for. The show made me wish I knew more about the Andrew Jackson and that time period in history, and that’s a feeling I like to have at the end of something.

I hope this show comes to Nashville someday. As a hometown hero from almost two centuries ago, he’s kind of venerated here, and people don’t really think about his legacy of genocide. Several important buildings and streets are named after Jackson. His plantation is a historic site we’ve visited, and I will say that the presentation of history at The Hermitage is as inclusive as it can be, telling the story of Jackson’s slaves with almost equal importance to his own family’s story, and pointing out that there’s no such thing as a “good” slave owner. The show told an important historic story in an entertaining, irreverent way; it’s the kind of thing I’d like to bring students to see.

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