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'Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

October 14, 2010 | 10:15 am

Jackson It's been a long road to Broadway for the new musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson." Judging by the critical reaction so far, it was well worth the wait, for the most part.

"Jackson" was staged at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City in 2008 in a production directed by Alex Timbers of Les Freres Corbusier and starring Benjamin Walker in the title role. The lead actor and director have stayed on with the musical through its run at New York's Public Theater and now at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway. (The show also ran at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.)

Featuring an emo-rock score by Michael Friedman and a book by Timbers, "Jackson" creates a revisionist, tongue-in-cheek take on the life of the seventh U.S. president, known as Old Hickory. The show focuses on Jackson's many flaws, including his genocidal policy toward Native Americans, to create a pageant-like portrait of celebrity leadership.

In his review of the Kirk Doulgas Theatre production, Times theater critic Charles McNulty wrote that the show is the "product of sensibilities shaped by the topical ironies of Jon Stewart and the profane zaniness of 'South Park,'" rather than traditional song-and-dance musicals of yore.

So how did critics react to the Broadway production of the musical?

Ben Brantley of the New York Times praised the production as "invigorating," adding that this "shaggy, devastatingly insightful show is likely to remain a true reflection of these United States for many years to come." The critic singled out Walker's lead performance, writing that the actor "has the charisma and polish to rule any stage, uptown or down."

Steven Suskin of Variety described the musical as a "scathing and topical satire on matters patriotic and political" and added that the prodution "soars along like a carnival ride."  The reviewer said the show could be a tough sell on Broadway, but "word of mouth will loom large with this one."

Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune called the musical "fractured, intermittently juvenile and wholly fearless and arresting." The critic wrote that at its best moments, the production "impresses with the sheer force of its commitment to its central idea and the way it tracks and explicates that peculiarly American hybrid of celebrity-leader."

Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post wrote that the show "has actually gained both scope and focus" in its transfer to Broadway from the Public Theater. "Underneath its brashness and 'Looney Tunes' antics, 'Bloody Bloody' offers a smart, informed look at America's bottomless appetite for pandering leaders," wrote the critic.

John Simon of Bloomberg offered a dissenting view, writing that the production is ill-suited for a Broadway house. "When I reviewed 'Bloody' at the Public, I found it mildly amusing and worthy of a friendly pat on the shoulder," Simon wrote. "On Broadway, however, it proves more deserving of a slap in the face."

-- David Ng

Photo: Actor Benjamin Walker attends the curtain call at the Broadway opening night of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson." Credit: Jason Kempin / Getty Images

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