Theater

Review
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"
Produced by: San Jose Stage Company
When: Through July 29
Where: San Jose Stage Company, 490 South First Street, San Jose, California
Tickets: $17.50-$50; www.sanjose-stage.com or 408-283-7142
Corris, Williams
Dave Lepori / San Jose Stage Company
David Colston Corris, left, and Jonathan Rhys Williams in San Jose Stage Company's regional premiere of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson."
Bloody Andy cast
Dave Lepori / San Jose Stage Company
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" at San Jose Stage Company features, clockwise from far left, Will Springhorn, Jr., Halsey Varady, Martin Dietrich Rojas, David Colston Corris, Jef Valentine, Manuel Romero, Allison F. Rich, Clarissa Yoshiko Chun, Aaron Wilton and Courtney Hatcher.
Clarissa Yoshiko Chun
Dave Lepori / San Jose Stage Company
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" includes, from left, Clarissa Yoshiko Chun, Courtney Hatcher, Halsey Varady and Allison F. Rich. This is Chun. Click on the image to see all of them.
Bloody Andrew Jackson cast
Dave Lepori / San Jose Stage Company
San Jose Stage Company's regional premiere of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" features, in front, Jonathan Rhys Williams as Andrew Jackson, and from left in back, Will Springhorn Jr., Courtney Hatcher, Clarissa Yoshiko Chun, Jef Valentine, Manuel Romero and Allison F. Rich.
Rockin' hard with Ol' Hickory
'Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson' is fun but not great
at San Jose Stage Company
June 18, 2012

"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," which is having its regional premiere at San Jose Stage Company, has a fatal conceptual flaw that keeps it from being great, even while it is often fun, entertaining and even (briefly) elucidating.

It's possible to use hard, punkish rock to make a musical — "Spring Awakening" proved that, magnificently.

But to combine emo rock, comedy, history and very earnest theater professionals?

Maybe some alchemist could make a sorcerer's stone from that combination of elements, but writer Alex Timbers, lyricist and composer Michael Friedman and director Rick Singleton are not such magicians.

Fairly early on we are treated to jokes at tragic happenings — young Andrews' parents and a cobbler all die quickly and fall over, accompanied by a sound effect of an arrow THWACK! — even though they all died of cholera, as we are told.

Well, no worries about that whole laugh-at-tragedy thing. Laughing at tragedy helps us get through.

But while maybe punk rock could somehow mix well with comedy, the mix is unsuccessful in this work. Are were supposed to take it seriously in some way, as cast members mince and scream to rock music, are we just supposed to laugh at the various gags, are we supposed to think that Andrew Jackson was anything like he is presented here?

History is touched on at break-neck pace. Andrew joins the military at age 13 and kills a lot of Indians, British and Spaniards, and a few Americans in duels. He is injured at some point, and is nursed back to health by the beautiful Rachel, whose breasts he clearly admires. They marry. He becomes the seventh president and does a lot of important stuff, some of which is sung and danced about in this show.

Maybe the show is mainly about the Indians. Andrew Jackson was certainly responsible for killing and/or moving a lot of them. The show's strongest emotional moments in fact, the play's best writing, comes when Jackson, as president, must deal with his old friend Black Fox, and his adopted Indian son, Lyncoya, while also deciding to shove thousands of Indians to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.

Jonathan Rhys Williams as Andrew gives a strong performance, moving his character from goofy baby through young murderous military man with a rock-star attitude ("Hey, I've got tight pants!") to waking up in the presidency, having a hard time making decisions when so much is at stake. He's not just playing around now — he's got to deal with this whole Populism thing, he's got to do something about the Indians, and his beautiful wife Rachel died. The party is over.

Halsey Varady was safely appealing as Rachel, whom historians describe as being beautiful and vivacious. Manuel Romero was suitably confused as Black Fox. Child actor Chanz Kallstrom earns some "Ahh!" moments at Lyncoya. Jeff Valentine milks every possible double-entendre for whatever it's worth. Clarissa Yoshiko-Chun, who is fine like everyone else in the cast, looks like she could be the little sister of Mercury News theater writer Karen D'Souza.

The cast overall is good, trying to do the best they can with very uneven material. They're all, obviously, people who care about theater and want to continue with it, even in a show that failed on Broadway and is thematically inconsistent.

I loved the set, by Thierry Chantrel — it was like walking into Frontier Land at Disneyland. Ya got yer log walls, yer electric-candle chandeliers hanging over the audience. The costumes, by Michelle Wynne, were a production-appropriate mix of historical items and modern highlights. This show owes much to Julie Taymor, I thought, especially when Andrew, in 1829 or so, used a telephone on his metal office desk.

One of my favorite bits was when Mari Magaloni, as the storyteller, entered. It's so cute, and so successful, that I won't reveal what happens.

It was, as one theater-goer mentioned, not steampunk, but founding-fathers punk.

Like at a punk show, the words "fuck" and "shit" are heard a lot.

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