“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” is a scrappy rock musical that celebrates the populist seventh president of the United States with irony and swagger.
Old Hickory wears skinny jeans and courts his wife, Rachel, in a song called “Illness and Metaphor.” A contemporary Storyteller with greasy hair, glasses and a nasal Midwestern accent arrives in a motorized wheelchair — supplying her own “beep, beep, beep” — and goes on to get shot back and forth across time like an arrow. Jackson is robbed of the 1824 election in an Electoral College calamity that foreshadows the loss of Al Gore, another salty-tongued Tennesseean, in 2000.
An anthem to love and the torturous contradictions of the democracy, “Bloody Bloody” exists in a giddy state of energy and angst that suggests the subversive shtick of a “Saturday Night Live” skit dancing to the black lunacy of a Trey Parker musical (“Cannibal! The Musical,” in particular). Book writer Alex Timbers pens a wicked, vital, anachronism-laced epic that galumphs along to a folksy, frenetic score by Michael Friedman.
It’s 90 minutes of pure chaos and joy — even in a treatment as noisy and maddeningly uneven as the one playing now at Actor’s Express. As directed by Freddie Ashley and choreographed by Sarah Turner, the show is a mixed bag — killer design and up-and-down performances that can feel a bit collegiate.
As Andrew Jackson, Maxim Gukhman seems to be presenting an “idea” of a punk-star president rather than fully inhabiting his persona. He’s a fine-looking specimen of ski-slope nose, supple physique, forced charisma and authentic narcissism. Galen Crawley’s fragile Rachel is a mix of unconventional beauty and contrived sexuality — an arresting amalgamation of strength and vulnerability that’s interesting to watch but never fully resonates.
Instead, it’s some of the supporting players that really shine.
Bandleader Andy Danh has a lovely singing voice and fine guitar licks. Jason-Jamal Ligon is heart-breaking as noble Native American chief Black Fox, who Jackson sees as a duplicitous friend. Sam Costantino is delightfully spritely as Lyncoya, the young Indian boy that Jackson adopts. And I loved, loved, loved Kerrie Seymour’s pitch-perfect take on the goof-ball Storyteller, a performance so spot-on that you’d think she’s an audience member arriving late for the show. All in all, the ensemble ranges from sure-footed professionals like Jeremy Wood to the hard-to-hear Bailey Sessions.
Scenic designer Kat Conley creates a fantastic approximation of a Wild West carnival hall, with a glorious American flag, balconies and bar at one end. Jamie Bullins’ costumes are appropriately slinky and suggestive. Joseph P. Monaghan III washes it all in lush and evocative lighting.
At times, the band overpowers the voices, a situation that even microphones can’t help. (This was an ongoing problem at 2011’s “Spring Awakening,” too; as the engagement played on, the music seemed to get louder and louder.) While you admire Actor’s Express for staging this ambitious and unwieldy work, you can’t help but wish for a bit more polish. “Bloody Bloody” offers a bounty of political commentary, raucous comedy and lusty rabble-rousing. It’s a lot to take in and anything that can be done to finesse the experience is welcome.
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”
Grade: B minus
8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 17. $26-$47. Actor’s Express, 887 West Marietta St., Suite J-107, Atlanta. 404-607-7469, actors-express.com
Bottom line: Flawed. But see it anyway.
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