August 2, 2012 | by Patrick Folliard
Rocking revision

‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’
Through Aug. 19
Studio 2ndStage
1501 14th Street, NW
$38-$43
202-332-3300
studiotheatre.org

Heath Calvert in ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’ at Studio 2ndStage. (Photo by Scotty Beland; courtesy Studio Theatre)

 

After spending an afternoon with then-Sen. Kennedy and his young wife Jackie, Tennessee Williams said to fellow guest Gore Vidal that the American people would never send their hosts to the White House, they were way too attractive. (During the same visit, according to Gore, Williams also commented favorably on the future president’s backside).

Of course, Williams was dead wrong. The golden couple’s hotness was a boon. In the irreverent, emo-rock musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” now playing at Studio 2ndStage, our seventh president’s political success is based largely on his own less polished physical appeal. He’s imagined as an oversexed rock god.

Early in the brisk 90-minute musical, Jackson (Heath Calvert) leers at the audience and says “I’m going to put in you” — that same classy pickup line used so successfully by the boys on TV’s “Jersey Shore.” It works for Jackson too — random women want to have his baby and at least one man, his vice president Martin Van Buren, played by Davis Hasty, is terribly smitten.

Jackson is also an outsider at a time when the adolescent country is already wary of Washington’s power elite (played here as a foppish foursome). Born and bred on the frontier, he’s an aggressively unapologetic populist hawk who plays his base like a fiddle. The electorate wants change and Jackson fits the bill.

Sporting heavy guyliner and a thatch of floppy black hair, lanky Broadway vet Calvert is terrific as the callow Jackson. He looks good and exudes irritating arrogance pierced with hints of vulnerability. Mercifully, Calvert’s comedic portrayal is nuanced. In lesser hands, the performance could be numbingly one dimensional.

And talk about an energized base: Jackson’s supporters, played by a talented young ensemble, are on fire. Athletic actors Alex Mills and Ryan Sellars literally jump off the walls. As the narrator, Felicia Curry is solid but underused. She’s especially funny reminiscing about her first love, a big-busted Wellesley girl.

Unlike a lot of rock musicals, “Bloody” isn’t sung through. Alex Timbers’ book unfolds rapidly in a series of parodic sketches covering Jackson’s hardscrabble childhood, years spent slaughtering Native Americans, marriage to the already married Rachel (the talented Rachel Zampelli) and political ascent.

Staged by Keith Alan Baker with Christopher Gallu and Jennifer Harris, the mostly fast-paced show isn’t without lulls, particularly some tedious Oval Office scenes. And while a lot of the show’s humor feels overwrought — more sophomoric than satirical — songs like “Populism Yea Yea” and “Rock Star” from out composer Michael Friedman’s first-rate, hard driving score make it all OK.

With “Ten Little Indians,” a sweetly sung number about Native American genocide, Choreographer Diane Coburn Bruning cleverly demonstrates the demise of the great nations: Humbled leaders edge toward the end of a plank where one by one they’re killed off by shots to the head and knives to the neck.

Backed by historical projections (battlefield scenes, half-built Washington landmarks), Giorgos Tsappas’s open set with its blood-smeared stage floor nicely accommodates the production’s large 20-person cast as well as musical director Christopher Youstra’s dressed-down band.

While much has been made of Jackson’s tight pants, they’re less remarkable than what you might see at Town on a Saturday night. Far more interesting are his short military jackets by Ivania Stack. Early on, his coats are dirty and decorated with bloody scalps. Later versions are cleaner, more beautifully tailored. His rise and inevitable entry in the establishment (much to his fans dismay) is reflected in his costumes and Friedman’s score with songs “I’m Not That Guy” and “I’m So That Guy.”

Toward the end, the show briefly sobers up and makes a stab at exploring Jackson’s muddled legacy. Then it’s back to what it does best: The cast closes the show with a joyous and raucously performed version “The Hunters of Kentucky.”

From the portraits of a usually shaggy Jackson hanging around town, it’s hard to know if Old Hickory was truly a heartthrob. Too bad Van Buren isn’t it around to ask.

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