It is the very definition of irony that my 16-year-old daughter could not join me to see “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” because she had too much U.S. history homework. She would have loved this over-the-top rock musical/history lesson in the life of our seventh president–much more than she loved the dry reading she stayed home to finish.
The latest production from Chicago’s Bailiwick Theater is on stage at National Pastime Theater, a very-far-off-Loop Chicago theater in a slightly dicey North Side neighborhood that somehow seems like the perfect setting for this raucous show.
The 100-minute show, which runs without an intermission, seems particularly fitting during this, America’s political silly season.
“The show wags a very sharp tongue at American history,” says Bailiwick Chicago Artistic Director Lili-Anne Brown. “It comments upon how our leaders are chosen, what we want from them, and what we let them get away with, which is why we’re doing the show now.”
While our real life politicians make up their own “facts” and hope we don’t laugh, this show takes some equally questionable “facts” of Jackson’s life and plays them for laughs, from the parents who died (along with a shoe cobbler, either from cholera or an Indian’s arrow) when he was 13, his campaigns to rid America of the Spanish, the British, and the Indians (hence the “bloody” in the title), his bigamist marriage to Rachel, his adoption of the Indian baby who survived one of his murderous rampages, his distrust of Washington aristocrats and his ultimate election as the country’s first populist president only to find himself frustrated with the rigors of ruling.
While Matthew Holzfeind rocked the house as Jackson, it was Judy Lea Steele who stole the show as the narrator. She rolled up on the stage in her shiny red scooter, maneuvered into a parking spot on stage left and proceeded to fill in the historical details of Jackson’s life. Later, when Jackson has had enough of her narration, he shoots her in the neck, only to have her survive to crawl back onto the stage wearing a blood-stained shirt and shot again, this time for good….until the end when she returns atop her scooter wearing angel wings to discuss Jackson’s understandably controversial legacy. Was he a man of the people? Or an egotistical pol who sacrificed everyone–from the country’s Native People to his own wife–to get what he wanted?
This Tony Award-nominated show is perfect for teens, especially teens who, like my darling daughter, are currently studying American history. Any historical accuracy lost in the creative process can be filled in later with a dry textbook. Even history haters should find something in this show to make them smile–if not the history, then maybe the music or the four-letter words.
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” is one of the best deals in Chicago live theater. Tickets are $25 on Thursday and Sunday, $30 on Friday and Saturday, and $20 for students and seniors. The show is free on election night (Nov. 6) for anyone who can provide proof they voted.
The upside of the show playing in a dicey neighborhood is that it’s easy to find free parking, another rarity for Chicago Theater.