You’d be foolish to see Chance Theatre’s production of the musical, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson instead of going to summer school to learn U. S. history, even though there’s a lot of history that bleeds into Alex Timbers’ book. But, if your idea of beach reading is plowing through an entertaining and energetic historical novel, then this show is for you.
A deconstruction of the U. S. public’s taste for populist, if inaccurate, rhetoric, celebrity worship, and low-information voting, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson lifts several historically accurate facts from the life of the seventh U. S. president and plops them into a rock show. There’s an onstage band (led by Robyn Wallace), sexy takes on period costumes (by Carin Jacobs) that put the entire cast into skinny jeans as tight as body-types will allow, and choreography (by Kelly Todd) that’s a cross between the exuberance of Spring Awakening and the classical energy of West Side Story (a show Ms. Todd choreographed brilliantly for this Orange County troupe a year ago).
The 90-minute, no intermission, show is fast, loud, and cynical. It goes down like fast food, filling but ultimately unsatisfying and is full of the kind of “gotcha” reversals that one sees on late night “fake news” shows.
In other words, it’s aimed at young people, not old fogeys like me. Us old fogeys and are certainly welcome to pay to see it, but we may find ourselves a little uncomfortable, like we’re on the outside looking in.
The cast is full of Cal State, Fullerton, musical theatre students and graduates and is directed by Kari Hayter, who teaches in the CSUF theatre department. But, lest you write off the effort as a student summer theatre production, I should hasten to add that the quality of the performances and the production is at a level that rivals the best of small theatre companies in Southern California, and Chance’s stature in that community is unquestioned. [php snippet=1]Keaton Williams, who plays Jackson, is a dynamic performer with a baby face, the latter a quality that works against him while playing Old Hickory as a rock star. Last summer, he handled the difficult singing duties of Tony in West Side Story with startling ease, and here he makes a solid shift to rock repertoire. Only those who recall his previous year’s performance will notice that traditional theatre music is really his forte. His compatriot in both shows, Robert Wallace (Bernardo in West Side Story, the noble Black Fox here) looks and feels as at home in this show as he did in the previous one. He has a sturdy voice, dances with cat-like grace, and wears those skinny jeans extremely well. Ashley Arlene Nelson registers as Jackson’s wife, Rachel, as does Chance company member Alex Bueno as the American Indian child that the Jacksons adopted.
Chance Theatre is located about 100 miles from downtown San Diego, just off the 91 freeway and Imperial Highway, tucked away in a light industrial complex. But, Orange County theatre-goers have a nose for quality, and they’ve discovered that this company gives them what they’re looking for. Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson runs through August 4.