Rock 'N' Roll in the 19th Century? It Works in Two Anachro-Rock Musicals Opening Here: 'Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson' and 'Spring Awakening.'

Article excerpt

There have been plenty of arguments about when rock 'n' roll began. But no one has ever suggested that it happened in the 19th century.

Nevertheless, that's when two rock musicals that open here in the coming week take place.

New Line Theatre presents "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," a fact- based bio-musical (like "Evita") by Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers. It makes its local premiere with artistic director Scott Miller at the helm. At Stray Dog Theatre, Justin Been directs "Spring Awakening," the Tony-winning hit by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater.

Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1829, serving two terms; he left office as Victoria ascended the British throne. "Spring Awakening" is based on German playwright Frank Wedekind's 1891 drama that brought shocking frankness to a discussion of teenage sexual behavior in a small, prudish town ruled by the Kaiser. Among other things, it deals with abortion, homosexuality and suicide.

Yet both shows boast a sound that didn't have a name before the baby boomers embraced it. What are we to call that kind of music?

How about anachro-rock?

Gary F. Bell, artistic director of Stray Dog, and Miller, at New Line, also call it a great idea.

Bell thinks composer Sheik's decision to incorporate instruments associated with classical music into "Spring Awakening" ties the rock melodies to traditions that its characters would have known. That underscores the tension at the heart of the piece.

"Juxtaposing old with new is really of interest today," Bell says. "We did a bit of that last season, in our steampunk 'Tommy' (which he and Been co-directed). …