If you're going to see one comedic Wild Westl rock opera inspired--loosely--by American history...well, it's safe to say Salt Lake Acting Company's current production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is your only option.
Thankfully, it's a worthy one; the show is a Drama Desk and Outer Circle Critics Award winner, and SLAC's version is a remarkably entertaining blast of song, dance and non-stop laughs that will remind many SLAC regulars of the manic energy of the theater's summer Saturday's Voyeur satires.
The difference, of course, is that instead of the laughs coming from the audience's knowledge of hyper-local politics and culture, they come from the audience's deep dive into the boisterous life of the country's seventh president. No doubt many of us remember some U.S. history class nuggets about Andrew Jackson, from his "Old Hickory" nickname to his efforts to eradicate native tribes from the western frontier. But playwright Alex Timbers fills in some lesser-known details throughout the show that traces--again, loosely--Jackson's rise from a dumb-as-a-stump redneck to populist president.
Whether or not those details are historically accurate hardly matters--I'm pretty sure that Jackson didn't use "Old Hickory" as the nickname for his penis. I'm no historian. But it was damn funny during Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, thanks in large part to actor J.C. Ernst, who plays the title character with an Elvis-like swagger throughout the show, whether leading raucous rock tunes or wooing the women entranced by his backwoods charms.
The show gets the audience on Jackson's side right away, as we witness Jackson's family and friends on the frontier murdered by Indians or killed by cholera. It's a rough start for the future president, one he describes accurately with a song featuring the line, "Life sucks. But my life sucks in particular!"
Yes, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson's dialogue and songs are delivered in modern vernacular, and that helps the comedic aspects of the show tremendously; seeing characters in historical garb liberally drop f-bombs is a treat for those of us who enjoy the cursing arts. And the rock tunes filling the production are funny as well; the song with the refrain "Populism! Ya! Ya!" totally reminded me of something you'd see in a South Park episode.
While Ernst is clearly the headliner of this party, he's surrounded by a strong cast that manages to take some of the spotlight rightly focused on him. This is SLAC's first demonstration of the theater's University Professional Theatre Program, and the cast is filled with fine actors and singers from local colleges. Aaron Ross (playing Martin Van Buren), Austin Archer (as James Monroe), Chase Ramsey (as John Quincy Adams), Patrick Kintz (as John C. Calhoun) and Daniel Clay (as Henry Clay) are all excellent as a collection of East Coast aristocrats that Jackson absolutely loathes (they're among a list of things he hates, along with the Spanish, the British, and Indians). Jessica Kennedy is sexy and sassy as Jackson's wife Rachel, and Connor Norton does excellent work as the main female vocalist of the songs, whether acting as a fawning Jackson fan or a one-woman Greek chorus of sorts.
The stage set is relatively ornate for a SLAC production, with logs filling the perimeter around stacks of beer kegs and wood pallets--yes, Jackson was a backwoods party guy. Director Keven Myhre moves the show along at a ripping clip; Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is delivered without a break between acts, so it definitely comes across as a rock show as much as a night of theater. The live rock band at the back of the stage led by David Evanoff (who also acts as a narrator at times) drives the rock-show vibe home even more. Put all the aspects together, and you have one seriously fun night out.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs at Salt Lake Acting Company through Nov. 4. Visit the Salt Lake Acting Company Website for showtimes and ticket information.
Dan Nailen has written about music, arts and culture in and around Salt Lake City for Salt Lake magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake City Weekly since 1998. He's currently a contributor to saltlakemagazine.com, and you can find more of his work at SLCene.com.