Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson - Portland Playhouse, Portland, Oregon


"Say What!?"

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson os playing through November 11th at the Portland Playhouse, 602 NE Prescott St.  It is a rock musical written my Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman and directed by Brian Weaver (P/P’s Artistic Director).  Check out their website www.portlandplayhouse.org for more information on the season, show times and prices.

How would you compare this show to…anything, I ask myself.  Well, to begin with, if you liked the style of Jesus Christ, Superstar, then this just might be your cup of tea.  It is a rock musical about a hysteric, er, historic character (actually both words are accurate).  It is updated, in many ways, to the modern days, even with the use of cell phones and ordering out for pizza.  And the historical accuracies are, to say the least, questionable.

It begins with a Storyteller (Lorraine Bahr) who narrates parts of the show’s tale.  The play is presented as an ensemble, with actors playing multiple roles.  Only consistent role is Andy Jackson, himself (Logan Benedict).  The other fourteen actors, plus the  band, play about fifty or so characters, notably the  political structures in the  guises of Martin Van  Buren (Jason Rouse), James Monroe (Darius Pierce), Henry Clay (Chris Murray), John Q. Adams (Sean McGrath), Calhoun (John San Nicolas), Rachel (his wife—Melissa Murray), and the representative for the Native Americans, Black Fox (Jared Miller).

President Jackson’s history is told in rapid-fire fashion, beginning with the slaying of his parents by Indians (not true); he and his wife’s fondness for blood-letting (hopefully not true); his wars against the Indians, British & Spanish (true enough); his battles with the powers-that-be in Washington (undoubtedly true); his desire to be a President of the People and the beginning of the Democratic Party (true); and the forced march of Native Americans Westward on the infamous Trail of Tears (unfortunately true).

The entire ensemble and band (Justin Jude, Devin Knutson & Arthur Parker) are quite extraordinary with nary a sour note among them.  The choreographers of dance (Kemba  Shannon) and  fight (Kristen Mun) must also be commended for the outstanding job of exploding the excitement and madness of this production within a confined space.  And a terrific job by the director, Brian Weaver, for keeping the action moving at a breakneck pace, without losing the focus of the tale, and allowing the actors to wing free.

But this could all be for naught, if the major focus was weak, in the character of Jackson.  But, have no fear, Mr. Benedict is more that up for the task.  His physicality is exactly right for the sexy image that is portrayed.  His voice is exciting and his energy, boundless.  And his acting, in some of the more serious moments toward the end, is quite poignant.  An award-winning performance, if  I ever saw one!

And the point to all these gyrations?  Perhaps this.  We may feel we have come so far in these last couple hundred years.  But have we really?!  Yes, on the outside, it appears that way.  But as long as Greed is still the driving force of Big Business and coveting Power it’s Master, we are a little people.  As long as Intolerance of others’ beliefs undercuts our way of life and selfish Pride is our god, we are a little people.  We may have grown outward but, possibly, not inward.  Maybe Jackson was right when he said we can fool ourselves into justifying our conquering of lands and peoples simply because…we wanted it.  If true, God save us from ourselves!

This show is well worth the effort.  See it and be entertained…and, perhaps, reflect.  You should be fairly warned that there is harsh language and adult situations and the show would probably be rated R.  Tell them Dennis sent you.