Where: Baliwick Chicago Theater at National Pastime Theater, 941 W. Lawrence Ave.
When: through Nov. 10
My first reaction on seeing the Chicago premiere of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” was one of disbelief. How could such a sophomoric, scattershot show make it to Broadway, as Alex Timbers (book) and Michael Friedman’s (music and lyrics) post-punk rock musical about our seventh president did in 2010?
Then I reconsidered. If you look at the 100 gleefully anachronistic intermissionless minutes laced with songs such as “Populism Yea, Yea!,” “Illness As Metaphor” and “Crisis Averted” as a send up of the American political system, our penchant for casting historical figures as heroes, and the whole genre of rock musicals, this endeavor might have a reason for being. It certainly highlights truisms with contemporary reverberations, among them the fact that power corrupts and democracy can easily morph into dictatorship. While dabbling lightly in Jackson’s biography, it also presents at least two sides of this undoubtedly complex man: avid patriot bent on expanding America’s borders and government vs. blatant murderer of Native Americans (and Spaniards, and the British) responsible for one of the biggest land grabs ever.
Or it would if Bailiwick Chicago’s production, directed by Scott Ferguson, weren’t so over the top. Raucous and ragged with a sensibility that blends Brecht and “The Rocky Horror Show,” it fits the faded elegance of National Pastime’s space and funkiness of Nick Sieben’s scenic design — part of the reason I couldn’t imagine it on Broadway — but the hipper-than-thou self awareness skews our reactions.
Although Matt Holzfeind looks the part of a rock-star Andrew Jackson in his super-tight jeans and plentiful eye shadow, he overdoes the whiny, petulant childishness whenever he doesn’t get exactly what he wants and in general comes across as erratic without being multi-dimensional.
The rest of the cast sings and acts unevenly, though several performers have their moments as caricatures of John Quincy Adams, James Monroe and John Calhoun, and Varris Holmes as put-upon Indian chief Black Fox, delighted the audience. Judy Lea Steele milks the role of Storyteller as she darts around on a motorized scooter, but it would be better if her voice were clearer. The band, which takes part in the action as is the trend nowadays, is quite good, as are a few of the songs. My favorite is “Ten Little Indians,” succinctly detailing how the ambitious Jackson got rid of those who had theland first.