If history class were like the rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, I might have fared better in school. The 2011 off-Broadway musical by Michael Friedman (music and lyrics) and Alex Timbers (book) examines the life of Andrew Jackson, America's seventh president, through the lens of a wry, high-octane rock concert.
Why Andrew Jackson? Well, why not? Jackson was not only a guiding force for the creation of the democratic party and populism movement, he was also instrumental in forcing native Americans to relocate west of the Mississippi river as part of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In other words, the man made a significant and indelible mark on America's history pages, for better or worse.
The show was an underground hit Off-Broadway in 2009, subsequently moving to Broadway in 2011, where it enjoyed a small but respectable run. In its Chicago area premiere, Bailiwick Chicago amps up the attitude with an in-your-face, fist pumping production that might be trying a bit too hard to sell itself, but never to the point where it feels too overwhelming. But almost.
As Jackson, Matthew Holzfeind is filled with Mick Jagger swagger as he delivers Freidman's angry rock anthems. As his wife Rachel Adams, Samantha Dubina provides Manson-like devotion to her husband's quest to bring political power back to the people. The ensemble is filled with attitude (heightened by Christopher Pazdernik's appropriately aggressive choreography), but could dial back the camp factor and let the inherent energy of the piece do the heavy lifting.
Perhaps most impressively, Nick Sieben's scenic design provides a stunning juxtaposition of past and present by placing this counter culture rock concert smack in the grandly historic lobby of the Masonic Hall (built in 1925), where National Pastime Theatre has recently relocated its home base.
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" plays through November 10 at National Pastime Theater. More info here.