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Rocking revision

Studio production cleverly reimagines Andrew Jackson’s legacy



‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’
Through Aug. 19
Studio 2ndStage
1501 14th Street, NW

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.



More queer books we love

Bellies: A Novel, Time Out and more for your gift list



(Book cover images courtesy of the publishers)

For the person on your gift list who’d love a boy-meets-boy story, wrap up “Bellies: A Novel” by Nicola Dinan (Hanover Square Press), the tale of a playwright and the man who loves him wholly, until a transition threatens to change everything.

If there’s a romantic on your list, then you’re in luck: finding a gift is easy when you wrap up “10 Things That never Happened” by Alexis Hall (Sourcebooks), the story of Sam, whose job is OK, and his boss, Jonathan, who should have never hired Sam. Too late now, except for the romance. Wrap it up with “Time Out” by Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner with Carlyn Greenwald (Simon & Schuster), the story of a basketball player who’s newly out of the closet, and a politically minded boy who could easily get his vote.

For the person on your list who likes to read quick, short articles, wrap up “Inverse Cowgirl: A Memoir” by Alicia Roth Weigel (HarperOne). It’s a collection of essays on life as an intersex person, and the necessity for advocating for others who are, too.

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Our favorite books for holiday gifts

Hitchcock, Britney, Barbra, and more!



(Book cover image courtesy of G.P. Putnam's Sons)

When it gets dark early, it’s cold outside and you want to spice up your life, what’s more intriguing than a book? Here are some holiday gift ideas for book lovers of all ages.

Who isn’t fascinated by the dark, twisty, sometimes, mordantly witty, movies of Alfred Hitchcock, or by Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren, Ingrid Bergman and the other actresses in his films? Hitchcock’s Blondes: The Unforgettable Women Behind the Legendary Director’s Dark Obsession by Laurence Leamer, author of “Capote’s Women,” is an engrossing story not only of Hitchcock, but of the iconic “blondes” he cast in some of his most beloved movies from “39 Steps” to “Rear Window” to “Vertigo” to “Psycho.” $29. G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Reading about Hitchcock, no matter how intriguing the book, is never as good as watching his films. Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection (Blu-ray $39.96. DVD: $32.40) features “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest,” “Psycho” and “The Birds.”

Corona/Crown,” by D.C.-based queer poet Kim Roberts in collaboration with photographer Robert Revere, is a fab present for lovers of photography, museums, and poetry. Revere and Roberts were deeply affected by the closure of museums during the COVID pandemic. In this lovely chapbook, they create a new “museum” of their own. “This is what I learned when the pandemic struck,” Roberts writes, “when I couldn’t stop thinking about the artwork in all the museums, bereft of human eyes.” $21.25 WordTech Editions

Few things are as scary and/or captivating as a good ghost story. The Night Side of the River,” by acclaimed lesbian writer Jeanette Winterson, author of “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” and “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,” is a provocative and engrossing collection of ghost stories. These deliciously chilling stories feature spirits, avatars, a haunted estate, AI and, pun intended, lively meetings between the living and the dead. $27. Grove.

Blackouts,” a novel by queer writer Justin Torres that received this year’s National Book Award for fiction, is a breathtaking book about storytelling, queer history, love, art, and erasure. A perfect gift for aficionados of characters that become etched into your DNA. $30. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

The Woman in Me,” the memoir by Britney Spears will be devoured by queers of all ages – from tweens to elders. Much of Spears’s story is known – from her youth in Louisiana to her rapid rise to fame to her conservatorship (when her father controlled her life). Yet the devil, as the saying goes, is in the details. In this riveting memoir, Spears reveals the horrifying and exhilarating aspects of her life: from how her father controlled what she ate and when she took a bath to the restrictions put on her ability to see her sons to her love of singing, dancing, and creating music. Spears writes of the queer community’s “unconditional” love and support for her.  $32.99. Gallery.

Few memoirs have been more eagerly anticipated than Barbra Streisand’s My Name Is Barbra.” In its nearly 1,000 pages, EGOT-winning (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony), divine, queer icon Streisand, 81, tells seemingly everything about her life. She quarreled with Larry Kramer over filming “The Normal Heart.” It didn’t work out: Streisand thought mainstream audiences would be turned off by explicit sex scenes. Marlon Brando and Streisand were good friends, she loves Brazilian coffee ice cream and her mother was a horror show. Contrary to how some lesser mortals see her, she doesn’t see herself as a diva. The print version of “My Name is Barbra” is fab. The audio version, a 48-hour listen, which Streisand narrates, is even better. $47. Viking. $45 on Audible.

Chasing Rembrandt,” by Richard Stevenson is a terrific gift for mystery lovers. Richard Stevenson was the pseudonym for Richard Lipez, the out queer author, who wrote witty, engaging mysteries featuring the openly gay detective Donald Strachey. Sadly, Stevenson died in 2022. But, “Chasing Rembrandt,” a novel featuring Strachey and his romantic partner Timmy, was published this year. The idea for the story was sparked by a real-life incident when paintings were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. “Robbers wreak havoc, smashing the glass covers protecting masterpieces and slicing paintings out of their frames,” Stevenson writes at the beginning of this entertaining story, “They make off with thirteen works, including three Rembrandts and a Vermeer, worth more than half a billion dollars and beloved in the world of art. It is arguably the greatest property theft in human history.”

With the repartee of Nick and Nora and the grit of Philip Marlowe, Strachey works to solve this mystery. $16.95. ReQueered Tales.

Some books never get old. “The Wild Things,” the beloved children’s picture book written and illustrated by acclaimed gay writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak, was published in 1963. Sixty years later, the Caldecott Medal-winning classic is still loved by three to five-year-olds, their parents, siblings, aunts, and uncles. A new digital audio version of “Where the Wild Things Are,” narrated by Michelle Obama, was released this fall. Who can resist the Wild Things, when they plead: “Oh, please don’t go–we’ll eat you up–We love you so!”? Widely available in hard cover, paperback and e-book format. Audio: $5.50.

What’s more fun than playing a festive album while you’re reading during the holidays? Deck the halls! This year, queer icon Cher has released “Christmas,” her first holiday album. Highlights of the album include: Cher singing with Cyndi Lauper on “Put A Little Holiday In Your Heart,” Stevie Wonder on “What Christmas Means to Me” and Darlene Love on “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” and the rapper Tyga on “Drop Top Sleigh Ride.” The perfect gift for Cher aficionados.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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PHOTOS: Walk to End HIV

Over $550,000 raised at annual Whitman-Walker event



The 2023 Walk to End HIV was held on Saturday, Dec. 2. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Whitman-Walker Health held its 37th annual Walk to End HIV on Saturday, Dec. 2. Participants gathered in Anacostia Park in heavy fog to run or walk along the Anacostia River Walk Trail. A short stage program at the finish line was emceed by NBC4 Washington’s Chuck Bell and included speakers from Whitman-Walker Health, Gilead Sciences and AARP. Whitman-Walker Health CEO Naseema Shafi announced from the stage that over $550,000 had been raised to help fund programs and research to combat HIV.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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