Tuesday, November 13, 2012

" Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" ☼ ☼ BANG

The stage in San Francisco Playhouse's new home has a lot more space for the actors and musicians to work. Every inch is used in Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman's rock and roll musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," which originally premiered in New York in 2009. This regional premiere has received excellent reviews since it opened in early October, but for us it lacks an effective center.

Rock and roll is like that -- you've got to convince your audience. Maybe election season 2012 is not the best time for political discussions on stage of the issues of 1828, which are not all that dissimilar from what we are talking about today -- the greater good versus individual perfidy, for example. The problem is that the author does not seem to have made up his mind how he feels about his protagonist. Is General/President Andrew Jackson an American hero whose victories expanded the territory of the United States? Or is he a hated bigot whose portrait belongs on the wall at Indigenous Peoples' Day headquarters? Is he a flawed hero? Of course. But fatally flawed, or just misunderstood?

There's a lot of space between these two poles. Perhaps the music could help us come to a conclusion, but the lyrics are caught between cutesy and overly complicated, while the score is one-dimensional and frenetic. On this night those guitars added power but little else.

The lead, Ashkon Davaran, has been making a name for himself in town due to his celebratory video for the San Francisco Giants World Series victory. He was energetic but didn't have a lot to work with. William Elsman was an effective John C. Calhoun in a limited role, as was Safiya Fredericks as Henry Clay/Black Fox. Ann Hopkins, as the story teller, was an audience favorite.

Historically, the show asks a lot of important questions. But, as one audience member said, rather too loudly as the show ended: "Man! That was complicated!"

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson" Two Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. Two stars falls below the Julie Andrews line (see explanations of ratings in sidebar), but Jackson's history rates a BANGLE because we do learn quite a bit about the man. Were his parents really murdered by Indians before his eyes?

For us the bottom line is that a musical without singable songs means the show's energy either lifts you or leaves you flat. It's hard to hit the bulls-eye every night.

"Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson"
San Francisco Playhouse
NEW ADDRESS: 450 Post Street, San Francisco
Through Nov. 24

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