“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” has to be one of the best political satires on stage. The play tells the story of the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, through a musical. Matching style to subject, this scathing satire is delivered through loud music, obscene lyrics, and emo rock.
The play begins with pre-teen Andrew Jackson loosing both parents to cholera and posturing as a rockstar, full of determination to take on the world. Half in awe of himself and half wallowing in self-pity, he sings “life sucks and my life sucks in particular…”. Later while fighting the Spaniards, Jackson is injured. As he recovers from his injuries, he falls in love with a beautiful girl, Rachel. Throughout their time together, he has a turbulent relationship with Rachel who marries him before her divorce from her first husband was finalized and was often called a bigamist and a whore. Jackson was quick to rise to her defense and is said to have fought duels on that account. Jackson and Rachel are deeply emotionally intertwined but their visions never coincide. Jackson is ambitious and Rachel wants a home and simple life with husband, children, and “many slaves”. The intensity of Jackson’s passion bring to mind, following stanza from Shakespeare’s sonnet “All the world’s a stage”.
And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.
Jackson is full of disdain towards the US Government and the “Washington elites” lack of interest and distance from the people residing and dealing with the challenges on the frontier who are directly experiencing conflicts with the Spaniards, the French, the British, and the Indians. Those frontier people found their hero in Jackson, who focused their savage impulses with the battle cry of populism. Jackson organized a militia to remove Indian Tribes throughout the Southeast, both by force and negotiation. This bitter political truth is aptly delivered in the play, by an irreverent take off on the popular children’s song, “Ten Little Indians”. Jackson rebuffs the concerns of John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Martin Van Buren over Jackson’s unauthorized territorial expansion. Shortly thereafter, The Battle of New Orleans transforms Jackson into a national hero. He becomes governor of Florida, runs for President and despite receiving the most popular and Electoral votes, is not sworn into office due to the political maneuvering in the House of Representatives. Against the wishes of his wife Rachel, Jackson runs again and becomes our seventh President. Finally finding himself in the Oval Office as the popularly elected leader of the Democratic party, Jackson finds himself woefully inadequate in dealing with the problems that faced the nation. As the self styled “People’s President,” Jackson begins polling the American Populace on all Executive decisions and risks the wrath of Congress and the Supreme Court. Jackson soon finds that the public is neither educated on the issues, nor consistent in their responses. The American people also see him as inadequate and gradually turn against him. He decides to take responsibility and handle the “Indian question” with total determination and gets the federal troops to forcibly move the Indians, westward. The Trail of Tears resulted in death of thousands of Indians from exposure, disease, and starvation.
So what is President Andrew Jackson’s legacy? Alex Timbers, writer-director and Rick Singleton, Director serve up the facts with absurdist humor and leave you to judge for yourself. But it is not just about Jackson’s legacy and the mark he left in history. The ephemeral, overly worshipful, and yet not constant, idiotic electorate makes for a solid counter-argument regarding democracy, as a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Michael Friedman (music and lyrics) has composed amazing lyrics which seem deceptively simple but tackle the most complex subject with ease, and David Coston Corris (understudy, in the role of Jackson for the performance I attended) played Jackon with tremendous energy, passion, and arrogance, as befitting this maverick president. This is a must-see musical that offers a peak into a not so flattering period of US history.
PS – My special thanks to my friend Piper McNulty for her help in editing this piece.