A Little In-Your-Face History

Even though we only elect the country’s commander-in-chief once every four years, it seems that somebody is always running for president. So by the time we get to the official election season (right now), most people are just tired of the whole thing. Certainly you can’t be blamed for avoiding going to see political topics “just for fun.”
But I encourage you to gird your loins and go to at least one piece of political entertainment that’s not on TV. Specifically, you should check out the current offering from the Unicorn, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. If real politics were presented like this, there would be no trouble getting people involved.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a raucous, energetic, punk-emo-rock musical that tells the story of our seventh president. People who don’t remember their American history may shrug their shoulders and say, “Isn’t that the guy on the $20 bill? Why is he so special that he gets his own play?”
But those who remember more about Jackson may understand. After all, he is one of the most controversial presidents we’ve ever had. He is the reason we have two political parties. He was the first to actually stand up to the corruption of Washington (both the city and the man). And he was responsible for the slaughter of most of the Native Americans.
Jackson’s career is long and complicated; many books and articles have been written about him, with about as many opinions. He’s been called everything from an American hero to an American Hitler. And this little play wants to cover everything in 90 minutes? By singing?
Certainly the show does not go into any depth on any topic. It’s a survey class, taught by the characters themselves … albeit with a very in-your-face attitude. But that’s fine. By showing the “greatest hits” of Andrew Jackson’s life and career events, it’s not only really entertaining, it actually whets the appetite to learn more.
The cast is pretty large, comprising a dozen people. Shea Coffman plays Andrew Jackson, and he careens around the stage with an almost manic intensity. He does a great job of illustrating the issues that pulled Jackson in so many directions that he ended up divorced. Most of the rest of the cast plays multiple roles that require quick costume changes. They were all right on target and on time.
The set is one of the best I’ve seen at the Unicorn. The buildings are elegant but off-kilter, just like the rest of the play. Because of the size and energy of the cast (not to mention the live band), the stage had to be expanded to fit everything in.
This is a show where everything works. Talented singers and dancers tell us a story that, while taking place about 175 years ago, is still relevant for us today. We learn not only about a historical figure, but also about the political process itself. Issues of corruption, democracy and racism infuse this irreverent musical to make it much more than a way to entertain yourself for 90 minutes. History was never more fun.
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” runs through Nov. 4 at the Unicorn Theatre. For tickets and information, go to www.unicorntheatre.org.

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