Old Hickory Rocks While History Rolls; Theater Review; Brash Musical about Andrew Jackson Deftly Shows American Culture in a Rowdy Era [Corrected 10/04/12]

By Judith Newmark; Diane Toroian Keaggy | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), October 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

Old Hickory Rocks While History Rolls; Theater Review; Brash Musical about Andrew Jackson Deftly Shows American Culture in a Rowdy Era [Corrected 10/04/12]


Judith Newmark; Diane Toroian Keaggy, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


This fall, sober voters of both major parties are sometimes inclined to bemoan the entertainment spectacular known as American electoral politics. So dishonest! So vulgar! So unlikely to test the qualities we long to see in our leaders!

But maybe it was ever thus. You certainly could make that case on the basis of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," the raucous rock musical that just opened at New Line Theatre.

From its sensational opening number, "Populism, Yea, Yea!," this show presents its take on history without the reverence of old biopics ("Abe Lincoln in Illinois") or the thoughtful British gloss of new ones ("The King's Speech"). According to Alex Timbers, who wrote the "Bloody Bloody" book, and Michael Friedman, who wrote the music and lyrics, our politics demand discussion in a truly American vernacular: rock 'n' roll.

From the moment John Sparger struts onstage, the slim and cocky idol of an adoring crowd, we get the point. This time they call him Old Hickory, hero of the Battle of New Orleans. Fine. Call him that or call him Elvis, we know what he is: a golden boy of the brackish backwater, anathema to aristocrats, son of people who may not have raised him particularly well but love him with all their hearts.

Sparger gives a hard-edged performance at the center of a cast of New Line regulars. Brian Claussen, who plays Vice President Martin Van Buren with a fussy manner and a coiffure curiously reminiscent of a peacock in full display, is particularly deft at embodying the contradictions of the musical - contradictions that the show's creators, and New Line director Scott Miller, underscore at every turn.

There are historic themes that wind through the show, particularly involving the brutal treatment of American Indians, whom Jackson sometimes liked individually but murdered en masse. …

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