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BLOODY BLOODY

ANDREW JACKSON

background and analysis by Scott Miller

 

 

"By rights, this show should be unbelievably grim, and we should all weep for America. But it’s not, and, well, we don’t. It’s actually pretty darned funny and exuberant, even as it tells us there’s also something in the American spirit, something just as awful as you’ll ever find in any other country that ever existed, that goes hand in hand with everything we’ve gleefully been told is so uniquely and unquestionably right. It’s also the apotheosis of dumb humor, shedding seemingly clumsy light on the darkest strains of the human spirit."

– Richard Green, TalkinBroadway

Andrew Jackson is the Rorschach Test of Americans Presidents, so complicated that almost everyone can find something in him that resonates. And his story is so fundamentally in tune with the special character of the rock musical – muscle, passion, emotion, aggression, politics, roughness, rawness, a certain amount of anarchy. So maybe it was inevitable that someone would turn his life into a rowdy, rebellious piece of rock theatre.

Jackson was equal parts Barack Obama (charismatic populist, anti-corporatist, and intrinsically American success story), John McCain (crusty war hero Libertarian), Sarah Palin (loud, clumsy outsider), and George W. Bush (cocky, loyal, charming, and anti-intellectualist). Jackson’s first biographer James Parton wrote, "Andrew Jackson, I am given to understand, was a patriot and a traitor. He was one of the greatest of generals, and wholly ignorant of the art of war. A writer brilliant, elegant, eloquent, without being able to compose a correct sentence, or spell words of four syllables. The first of statesmen, he never devised, he never framed a measure. He was the most candid of men, and was capable of the profoundest dissimulation. A most law-defying, law-obeying citizen. A stickler for discipline, he never hesitated to disobey his superior. A democratic autocrat. An urbane savage. An atrocious saint."

Jackson admitted his shortcomings later in life, "offering examples of his explosive temperament, which in those days were often accompanied by a stream of obscenities and threats of violence," according to Lynn Hudson Parsons’ excellent book The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams and the Election of 1828. Parsons describes Jackson as a young man: "According to one source, relocating out houses was one of their major nocturnal occupations. Andrew Jackson was the most roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, horse-racing, card-playing, mischievous fellow that ever lived in Salisbury." But he was also the American hero who beat back the British in The Battle of New Orleans. Parsons writes, "It was not a mere military triumph. The victory came to be symbolic of a young, vibrant American defeating an old, effete Europe." And the 1924 Presidential election between Jackson and John Quincy Adams had essentially the same character. Adams had famously written on the issue of voting rights, "Depend upon it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; there will be no end to it. New claims will arise; women will demand the vote; lads from twelve to twenty-one will think their rights not enough attended to, and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state." By 1828, history was leaving Adams behind. From now on, candidates for office had to appeal to a much wider swath of the electorate than before. It was the perfect moment in history to be a populist. Just as 1959 was a monumental turning point in America’s cultural history, so too was 1828.

A PBS documentary about Jackson contained the following list of chapters: The Wild Young Man, The War Hero, The Slave Master, The Candidate, The First Imperial President, The Defender of the Union, The Great White Father, and The Prophet. Jackson was all of those. And he lived at an amazing moment in the American Experiment. He fought in the Revolution, he won the decisive battle of the War of 1812, and he presided over the birth of modern democracy, modern capitalism, and the early dawn of the Second Industrial Age, truly one of the most tumultuous times in our history.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson succeeds so completely due to the artistry and skill of its creators, but also because that moment in history was so dramatic – so many powerful, quirky, multi-agenda’d egotists (Jackson, Clay, Calhoun, JQ Adams, and others) at the center of this very high-stakes story, and such a volatile, chaotic context, as America found itself in the midst of massive, fundamental change. Its power comes from the fact that it’s all true and it’s also all so Shakespearean. Such gigantic stakes, such dangerous times, such powerful forces, such profound tragic character flaws, so many shadows. It’s not hard to see the movers and shakers of the Jacksonian Era mirroring the political figures in Macbeth or Coriolanus or Richard III.

It was a wild time in America. If 1776 was the birth of our country, then the election of 1828 must’ve been when we hit puberty, complete with all the chaos and growing pains that go with that. As a country we were becoming a moody, needy, crazy, difficult, id-driven teenager writ large. What language could tell that story better than rock and roll? But Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson also tells the parallel story of the emotional and moral maturing of Jackson himself. His story follows the classic hero myth, alongside Luke Skywalker, Dorothy Gale, Rob Gordon, and Janet Weiss.

This is the Age of Jackson.

The election of 1828 was historic in so many ways. Voter turnout jumped from 27% in 1824 up to 57% in 1828 (when Jackson won his first term), demonstrating that even back then, the bigger the voter turnout, the better the odds for the Democrats, just as it is today – even though Jackson was America’s first Democrat. Jackson’s election in 1828 was the first Presidential campaign decided by popular vote, also the first grassroots Get Out the Vote effort, the first overtly public campaign for President, the first election with public rallies, coordinated media efforts, negative advertising, opposition research, political fundraising, opinion polling, and the first public inauguration. It was quite literally the birth of modern American democracy. The United States was undergoing massive change. It was also the birth of the Democratic Party (while the Whig party became the National Republicans), and according to Presidential historians, the dirtiest campaign in U.S. history.

Parsons writes:

Another shift was the gradual divestiture by state legislatures of the power to choose presidential electors [for the electoral college]. The Constitution of 1787 left the method of selection up to the states. Few of the Founders expected rank-and-file voters to be involved in choosing a president, who, like the federal government itself, they expected to be "at a distance and out of sight," as Alexander Hamilton had put it in 1788. When Jefferson defeated Adams in 1800 the state legislatures in eleven of the sixteen states chose the presidential electors. By 1824 this was true of only six out of twenty-four, and by 1828 the number had dropped to two.

For most of the Founders, the word democratic conjured up visions of anarchy and mob rule. When Jefferson had been inaugurated, the country contained only about four million citizens. Less than three decades later, Jackson presided over a nation of thirteen million. Jefferson had to work with a Congress of thirty-two senators and 106 House members; Jackson faced forty-eight senators and 213 House members. Everything was getting more complicated as our country expanded rapidly. The urban Northerners depicted Jackson and the Democrats in cartoons as a donkey, a beast of burden; but to those in rural areas and on the frontier, a donkey was dependable, strong, necessary for survival. So the Democrats adopted it as their party symbol.

Jackson’s presidency brought to the forefront for the first time many of the issues we still fight over today, including states’ rights and "nullification," secession, separation of powers, the expansion of executive power, fiercely divided politics, new mass media (the steam-powered printing press and lithography, in Jackson’s time), and lots more. The Jacksonian Era grappled with one of our Great Debates: Who is sovereign – the federal government, the states, or the People? That’s a question also being asked in our courts today, over the Affordable Care Act, gay marriage, voter ID laws, abortion restrictions, and so much more.

Jackson wrote in 1832, in his veto of the re-chartering of the Second Bank of the United States, "It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society – the farmers, mechanics, and laborers – who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government."

Because he was the first President elected by popular vote – and in a landslide – the Jacksonian Era (the only era in American history named for a person) was a difficult time for our country, a kind of early adolescence. America’s voice was changing and her hormones were raging. Just as our extreme political hostility in this new century is born of a genuinely divided culture, so it was in Jackson’s world. And to dramatize all this tumult and complexity for a modern audience – and perhaps to teach us some lessons for our times – Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman created a rock musical in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson that captures those people and those times with amazing precision and insight; and the show’s angry, cocky, ironic, rock and roll aesthetic captures even more so that era’s emotional zeitgeist, freakishly like our own today.

Populism! Yeah! Yeah!

A brilliant, smartass and decidedly original emo rock musical about the founding of the Democratic Party by our country’s first populist President (and lots more) – a kind of “agitprop rock” theatre  –  Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson began life (long before anybody thought the populist Barack Obama would ever become President) at the experimental theatre company Les Freres Corbusier (named for Le Corbusier, the legendary pioneer of modern architecture), where the show’s 32-year-old director and co-writer, Alex Timbers, was artistic director. Timbers had worked through many of these same ideas in an earlier show called President Harding is a Rock Star, which he directed and co-conceived with composer-lyricist Kyle Jarrow.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson had workshop productions in 2006 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and in May 2007 at the New 42nd Street Studios in New York, where Benjamin Walker took over the lead that would eventually make him a Broadway star. The musical premiered as a fully produced show in January 2008 in Los Angeles at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, where its press materials described the show this way:

Shootouts, smallpox and scalpings—growing up on the American Frontier was killer! Hoping to kick some British butt and bitch-slap the Spaniards, thirteen-year old Andrew Jackson joins the Army and grows up to become America’s first populist president and greatest rock star since George Washington.

The critics loved it. Backstage West called it "a wildly exhilarating theatrical ride! The historical tomfoolery of a zany Monty Python spoof while conjuring an edgy seriocomic irony that recalls Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. It forges its own blazingly original artistic identity, pulsating with wit, melody, energy, and dazzling theatricality." The Los Angeles Times called it "goofy, daring. . . The product of sensibilities shaped by the topical ironies of Jon Stewart and the profane zaniness of South Park . . . Imagine Avenue Q with a master’s degree in American history. Or Brecht for people who secretly find him a bore." That last insight was the most accurate of all.

In May 2009, BBAJ (as its fans like to call it) opened in New York, in more of a concert staging, as part of The Public Theatre’s Lab Series. It then had a full-fledged off Broadway run at The Public, running March through June of 2010. The Public’s artistic director Oskar Eustis wrote about the show in the cast album’s liner notes:

I think Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is an experiment appropriate for our times. It may be about our seventh president, but it tackles the core of American populism – that ebullient, sentimental, no-nonsense, self-pitying, anti-intellectual, rowdy energy that is at the core of our national identity – with a precision and wit that speaks totally to our moment. The show invokes reactionary pleasures in order to savagely criticize them. It is a dangerous game, but Friedman and Timbers play it brilliantly. This is who we are, and if it’s horrifying, it can also be a lot of fun. What a contradiction, America.

Eustis finished his notes with, "Who says political theatre can’t rock?" Who indeed.

Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times, "You’re going to shake, rattle and roll when he makes you the ultimate promise, the one you truly want to hear from anyone who aspires to lead your nation: He solemnly swears to give you the best sex you’ve ever had. Thus does the man known as Old Hickory, poured into a pair of tight black jeans and fiercely embodied by a microphone-riding Benjamin Walker, take the stage in the rowdy, dopey and devastatingly shrewd Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which opened on Tuesday night at the Public Theater. Produced there last spring in a concert version, Alex Timbers’s and Michael Friedman’s emo-rock musical – which makes the case that this country’s relationship with its president is always deeply and irrationally personal – has returned to stake a claim as the most entertaining and most perceptive political theater of the season."

In September 2010, the show moved uptown and began previews at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, where it officially opened in October, with most of the cast from the off-Broadway production intact, especially Benjamin Walker in an electrifying performance and the tightest jeans on Broadway. BBAJ got rave reviews but was sometimes subverted by the often self-indulgent original cast, several of whom didn’t always serve the material as well as they could have, mugging and begging the audience for laughs. Still, The New York Times said of the transferred production, "Sometimes a funhouse mirror is more accurate than the one in the bathroom. There’s not a show in town that more astutely reflects the state of this nation than Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the rowdy political carnival that is sprawled all over the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater." Variety said, "Call it provocative anarchy, a 21st-century equivalent to the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup. At one point, Van Buren, Jackson’s veep and successor in the Oval Office, complains that Andrew is being ‘laissez-unfair.’ The authors are inarguably and entertainingly laissez-unfair to the Founding Fathers, tea-bagging Republicans, right-wing populists, handicapped narrators in motorized wheelchairs wearing sweaters with dancing bears, Native Americans, and just about whatever targets dart past their flyswatters."

Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal called it "the most significant musical to come along since The Light In The Piazza. Not since then have I felt that I was seeing a show that told me something promising about the future of the Broadway musical. Now, at last, I’ve seen another one." Newsday called it "ninety thoroughly audacious, politically savvy, politically incorrect minutes." The Chicago Tribune called it "wholly fearless and arresting. The consummate musical for the Wikipedia age."

The authors claimed that absolutely everything that happens in the show is true, including Jackson’s penchant for cutting himself, though some details are obviously fictionalized (in real life, Jackson’s father died in an accident before his birth and his mother negotiated his release from the British). The show follows our seventh President and founder of the Democratic Party, from birth to death, not incidentally including his systematic genocide of Native Americans – for which some historians today call him the American Hitler. We witness both Jackson’s greatness and his considerable darkness, all wrapped up in one big, messy, truthful package.

BBAJ’s songs are outstanding and hard rocking, the lyrics both well-crafted and consistently, hilariously surprising (the second song slaps us with the lyric "I’m Andrew fucking Jackson!"), the dialogue is smart, funny, and pointed, and there’s as much in the subtext as there is on the surface. Not only does the show give us a history lesson, it also says some very interesting things about these times we live in now, almost always operating on two levels at once. The show tells its story in today’s vernacular, in terms of today’s pop culture (one political sign in original production read, "Emocracy!"), and with dozens of sly, subtle references to both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. When Jackson warns of the dangers from terrorism in our homeland, danger on the border, etc., we realize that the show’s modern language and references aren’t just stunts or cheap laughs. The writers are saying something serious: Those who do not learn from history...

            Take as an example this conversation between Jackson and some tourists about relocation of Native Americans. It gets at the truth of both that debate and, at the same time, today’s debate over torture and other elements of the War on Terror. There are no easy answers.

Tour Guide: President Jackson, this tour group is from your home state of Tennessee!

Jackson: No shit! Lemme ask you something. Do you think I should order the national guard to forcibly move the Indians west?

Man: Um, what?

Woman: Go ahead, sweetheart.

Man: Uh, ok. .. well, yeah, I do! If it means they'll leave Tennessee!

Jackson: See that's what I thought too, but now the Supreme Court says it illegal.

Man: Well, then you can't do it. Checks and balances are what this country was founded upon.

Jackson: Ok. So then the Indians'll stay.

Man: But not in Tennessee.

Jackson: Right. (then confused, turns back) Wait. What?

Man: I mean you shouldn't do anything illegal. But you can't let the Indians stay in Tennessee.

Jackson: Look I wanna do what you think is right but I can't do both those things.

Man: Right.

Jackson: Right.

Man: Great! This is so fun!

Jackson: You're an idiot.

Bloody Bloody Andew Jackson is a prime example of the Neo Musical Comedy, using the tools and conventions of old-school musical comedy, but with a thick layer of irony and politics laid on top. In 2005, Norman Lebrecht wrote about the new postmodern musicals in his online column, "The music in each of these shows amplifies this element of separation, licensing us to stand apart from what we are seeing and enter a third dimension where each of us can individually decide whether to take the plot literally or sardonically, whether to take offense or simply collapse in giggles. This degree of Ironic Detachment is the very making of the postmodern hit musical. Ironic Detachment would be unattainable in a Tom Stoppard play because I.D. requires musical inflexion; it is impossible in opera and ballet, which are stiffened by tradition against self-mockery. Its application is unique to the musical comedy, an ephemeral entertainment which has found new relevance through its philosophical engagement with 21st century concepts of irony and alienation."

But as timely as the show was, Variety predicted correctly that this wild, fearless, emo rock musical wouldn’t interest the uptown audience, with its anachronistic dialogue, complex moral gray area, and its scathing subtextual commentary on today’s more ridiculous political movements. The show closed in January 2011, after only 120 performances. Costing $4.5 million, it closed at a substantial loss to its investors.

Why didn’t the show last longer than fifteen weeks on Broadway? Too aggressive? Maybe. Too political? Could be. Too self-indulgent? Possibly. Too morally complex? Probably. Too downtown rock and roll? Most likely. Too dark? Almost certainly. Too obscene? Yes. Too honest about America? Absolutely. People paying $140 a ticket don’t like to be told they’re shallow and fickle. Maybe the show would have lasted longer had it stayed off Broadway. After all, the score is incredibly sophisticated and complex and the script is smart, dark, and emotional, sort of like Mame crossed with The Colbert Report. But like The Colbert Report, neo musical comedies are not comforting – they’re confrontational. Most tourists seeing a Broadway show may not enjoy that kind of ride. Just imagine a young family in New York for the first time, seeing Wicked and then Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

They’d all end up with PTSD.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons the show didn’t succeed may be that the original Broadway production didn’t entirely rise to the quirky brilliance of the material, despite Timbers doing double-duty as writer and director. The show was infected with the same virus that killed the musicals Cry-Baby and that made Toxic Avenger even worse than it already was: the misguided belief that nothing’s funnier than intentionally overblown "bad acting," in giant ironic scare-quotes, accompanied by mugging to the audience, mouth agape, to make sure we know how funny that bad acting was; and justifying it all as a kind of hipster Brechtian alienation. The legendary director George Abbott said, "If you play it for comedy, it won’t work. If you play it for real, it will."

Like Bat Boy, Urinetown, Spelling Bee, Cry-Baby, Little Shop of Horrors, and other shows, BBAJ works best when its actors play it deadly serious, with extremely high stakes. Timbers and Friedman wrote a completely overwhelming show, so crazy, so intense, so fast-moving, that it’s thrilling to be in the audience, and it doesn’t need "help" being funny. Luckily, Benjamin Walker and several of the other leads did not succumb to the "hamming" bug; they played it sincerely and honestly, though also big and outsized, and as a result, their performances were funnier than the others, and also emotionally engaging in a way that the others weren’t. They understood what theatre scholar Tom Oppenheim writes in the outstanding book Training of the American Actor about Stella Adler’s philosophy, "Stella insisted that characters must be multidimensional and grounded in oneself. They must be real human beings. But she does not shy away from painting characters in broad strokes. While she demands truth, she never shies away from size."

But it has to start from truth.

I’m Andrew Fucking Jackson

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is about a lot of things, but its core point is a tough one: Sometimes our heroes are assholes.

The strangest element of the show (among many!) is its hilarious and revealing central metaphor – our seventh President as a moody, self-involved, fourteen-year-old emo kid with violent tendencies and anger management issues. And he’s a cutter. He lives in a ridiculous comic world but he Takes Everything So Seriously. Just like a teenager. Early in the show, Jackson sings, "Life sucks! And my life sucks in particular!" Not exactly Presidential.

And this premise is set up very skillfully. Timbers and Friedman show their storytelling craft in the show’s first dialogue scene, on the surface a kind of sketch comedy parody. But by the time this short scene ends, young Jackson has absorbed his father’s explosive anger and his racism, he’s seen his whole family die in front of him, and he’s got a Kentucky rifle in his hands. The stage is set quite graphically for the wild life we’re about to witness. And we can understand why Jackson gets stuck as an emotional teenager. Underneath the laughs, there’s a solid foundation here for both character and story.

About halfway through the show, after losing his first election, Jackson as Emo Kid confides to the audience...

I’d like to tell you what I’m feeling right now. Because I’m feeling like this whole thing is really fucked and that it’s really unfair and frankly it’s starting to get on my nerves and it’s also starting to hurt my feelings. And, you can say, whatever, that I’ve killed a lot of people, that I’m a cowboy or a murderer or even that I represent the national character of this country. Because I kind of do. But I’m also a person, a really sensitive person. And, I worked so, so hard for this shit. You saw me. You saw me out there. Campaigning and stuff. And, then to take it away, to take it away so egregiously – well, it’s just unfair and I don’t know what else I need to tell you other than that. And I know you probably think I’m an asshole for saying it...

Jackson really was a self-aggrandizing jerk in many ways for most of his life, and he stands in for America, passing from the growing pains of national "childhood" into the complexity and internal chaos of national puberty. Here in BBAJ, John Quincy Adams stands in for ineffectual father in Rebel Without a Cause, with Jackson as Jim Stark, the volatile proto-emo kid. Or maybe he’s the daughter in Beetlejuice...

But this is not some silly cartoon. We have several figures in American politics today who are likewise emotionally retarded adults, people like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, John Edwards, Allen West, and George W. Bush, among others. It’s a serious point BBAJ is making, and some of the show’s subsequent regional productions haven’t understood the ironic layer of uber-seriousness laid on top that both makes the show work and makes it so funny.

The first dialogue scene in the show, a quick romp through Jackson’s childhood, seems silly and absurdist, but it does a lot of narrative heavy lifting. It sets up Jackson’s origin story, so different from any other President so far and even from the rest of America’s politicians. It sets up Jackson’s attitude about taking land, his hatred of Indians, and his anger management problems, here all inheritances from his father; as well as his emotional retardation, trapping him emotionally in early puberty (coincidentally, his age when his mother died, though his childhood is compressed in the show). This scene gets at a very serious point about those times and these, that while most children grow up in a world of discipline, obedience, and dependence, Jackson grew up in a world with none of those. His world was one of violence, chaos, racial fear, and moral anarchy – just as it is for many urban kids today. Jackson never got the guidance or the emotional support children need to develop properly. So he remains an emotional teenager, which is the central point of the show. To further underline all this, we later find Jackson quoting TLC’s pop song, "Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls," as well as the YouTube meme "Boom goes the dynamite!"

He’s not just a perpetual teenager; he’s also a social media user.

In some ways, Jackson is another in a long line of musical theatre anti-heroes, like Billy Bigelow, Harold Hill, Joey Evans, Henry Higgins, Rob Gordon, and Macheath. Why are we drawn to anti-heroes? Because we are all anti-heroes at times. Because that’s real. And because the anti-hero is a particularly potent symbol of our current zeitgeist. In these complicated, morally ambiguous times, we require complicated, fucked-up heroes, like Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan, Nancy Botwin, Walter White, and of course, Bruce Wayne.

But this Jackson is also an anti-hero in that he won’t follow the usual rules of narrative. The protagonist has to learn something over the course of his story, but Jackson gets only a glimpse at the kind of self-awareness most heroes achieve by the end of the story – look at "Being Alive" in Company or "Till There Was You" in The Music Man or "Love Like That" in Passing Strange; and then look at the end of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. True, there is profound insight in the last song "Second Nature," but that’s not Jackson’s voice. As we see from his commencement address at the end, he possesses very little self-knowledge and still fancies himself a creator of "equality for all," despite his mass murder of Native Americans and his ownership of black slaves. In some ways, Jackson’s lack of growth in the story is as much a Fuck You to the rules of narrative as Jackson’s actions themselves were a Fuck You to the Washington establishment. As Mr. Sondheim says, content dictates form.

Why Can’t I Have Both?

The character of Andrew Jackson in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is not really the seventh President of the United States Andrew Jackson. Like Shakespeare did in all his Histories, Alex Timbers has created a fictional character that uses the real Jackson only as a starting place. The character in the show is more a theatrical metaphor, a view of the real Jackson in the form of an emo kid, because (Timbers and Friedman posit) Jackson and emo kids share certain personality traits, and making this implicit connection reveals truths about Jackson. This show is less historical narrative than emotional narrative, once again of both Jackson and our nation.

Throughout the show, Jackson pouts, throws tantrums, yells obscenities, and breaks every promise he makes. Jackson is emotionally and morally retarded and he himself must go through the growing pains of American evolution as the nation figures out what it is, what its values are, what its responsibilities are. The country was still working through a lot of this in 1828 (and perhaps we still are now). Jackson’s hero myth becomes the nation’s hero myth. Like an American Jesus, Jackson represents us and suffers alongside us, rejected by the Pharisees, but (at least temporarily) favored by God. As the literal embodiment of American populism, Jackson represents the American experiment and the American people, both literally and literarily. He is shut out of the power structure just as the majority of Americans were shut out. In the election of 1824, Jackson won the popular vote – the voice of the people – but lost the election because the House of Representatives chose John Quincy Adams instead. (They had this power in this case because no candidate had gotten over 50% of the electoral college.) The common man – in the person of Jackson – was robbed of this voice.

But there’s also a strong narrative reason writer Alex Timbers created his Jackson in this form. In addition to being an insightful if unconventional history lesson, and a sly commentary on today’s political scene, the forward action of the show is Jackson’s classic hero myth journey, going further and further up the ladder of power, ultimately to a point beyond his talents. He had a talent for leading people, he had a talent for ruthless violence, he had a talent for fearlessness, and he had charisma in spades; but none of those talents are enough to govern a nation. George W. Bush had all those same talents (yes, I’d argue, including the propensity toward horrific violence, just not as personally), but many would also argue Bush was ill-equipped for the office of President.

Like Luke Skywalker, Jackson must start his hero myth journey as an impetuous, willful kid, who must learn to grow up; but unlike Luke, Jackson doesn’t have a wise wizard to guide him. Or a magic amulet. Or really, even any companions on his journey. He has none of the tools the hero needs to fulfill the hero myth. His life does suck in particular...

Jackson’s great, tragic Shakespearean flaw is a lack of self-awareness. He blunders through his life like a bull in a china shop – exaggerated in the show for effect, but rooted in truth. (When Jackson left the White House, he actually said to a reporter, "After eight years as President, I have only two regrets, that I have not shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun." Yikes!) Jackson’s gut instincts serve him well both in battle and in early American politics, but not in governing. It’s only at the end of the show that Jackson gains some self-knowledge, gets just a glimpse of the immense moral gray area his life has been, and he looks back, confused and conflicted...

Storyteller: His historical legacy is a complicated one. Some believe he was the greatest President of the 19th century while others believe his tenure was forever tarnished by his forced relocation of countless tribes...

Jackson: This is not helping right now.

Storyteller: ...and the subsequent "Trail of Tears" which resulted in the deaths of many thousands of Native Americans.

Jackson: (quickly, sarcastic) Great. Great. Good to hear. (lashing out) You know, you’re not supposed to know your legacy before you die!

Storyteller: Even today, there is still no historical consensus. In the past few years, numerous books and documentaries have raised the question of whether Jackson was "a great President" or whether he was in fact "a genocidal murderer," "an American Hitler"...

Jackson: Wow.

Notice the "lashing out" – not an adult response, even here at the end of his life.

Just before that scene, the band soloist sings "Second Nature," a very complex song about how America was born and what it would become, its mixture of greatness and darkness that directly parallels Jackson’s own journey. The soloist sings:

And what was it for?

The swimming pools?

The highways?

The ballgames in the dusk, on the battle fields?

A time we were so foolish and so young

No no no no no no…

No no no…

The grass grows.

We take it.

We want it.

It’s second nature to us.

That’s pretty potent stuff – We take it. We want it. It’s second nature to us. That describes much of America’s early history as well as much of Jackson’s life. But it’s a childish impulse to take whatever you want. It shows narcissism and a disturbing lack of empathy. There was considerable greatness in Jackson, just as there is considerable greatness in America, but the journey has not always been a pretty one.

Maybe the show’s point is that our heroes don’t come in capes and tights. Sometimes our heroes are assholes. But that doesn’t negate the good – even great – things they do. Only children believe in fairy tales and people who are All Good or All Bad. A continent is not taken by good intentions, kind words, and good-faith negotiations. It’s taken by force. It’s taken by murder. It’s taken by a religious fervor called Manifest Destiny. We Americans want to eat the steak but we don’t want to see the cow being slaughtered. Like the Florida couple in the show, we may condemn the genocide of the Native Americans and Spanish in Florida and Jackson’s infamous Trail of Tears, but none of us are lining up to give the land back. We may condemn slavery and those who advocated for it, but will we tear down all the buildings built by slaves and all the family fortunes built on slave labor? We may protest war, but would we rather America had not fought the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, or the Civil War? We want our heroes simple and they never are. We want to like them and emulate them, but they’re not always likable.

Sometimes it takes an asshole to get the job done.

The brilliant musical 1776 has a similar agenda, but BBAJ goes much further. Timbers and Michael Friedman chose as their hero a man who accomplished great things and moved our country forward in a meaningful way, and who was also an arguably unstable, grudge-holding, murderous hothead. Now that’s something an actor can sink his teeth into.

Some Serious, Serious Shit

Within the first few lines of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Jackson says, "I’m wearing some tight, tight jeans and tonight we’re delving into some serious, serious shit." It sounds like a joke when he says it, but this line tells us more than we realize about the show we’re about to see, about how serious it actually is.

Case in point. Near the end of BBAJ, there’s a conversation between Jackson and the (fictional) Native American chief Black Fox. And it’s intense. And it’s complicated. Jackson says to Black Fox in a moment of horrifying clarity:

Because I’m the will of the People and I know what’s right! (horrible silence) And that’s what populism is, bro. And I’m sorry about that. But we both know in our hearts that we can’t have Indian ghettos scattered throughout the East Coast! And I wish you’d built symphonies in cities, man, and put on plays and showed yourselves to be a little more essential. You know, to the culture? And yeah, you totally were here first, absolutely, but we don’t give a shit, and we never will. Because the day we arrived, we saw it, we wanted it, and frankly it was easier to believe it was ours. And so we’re stuck. And what I promise you is that this is the least bad solution... And what I also promise you? Is you sign this treaty here tonight and, in thirty years, you and I are gonna look like fucking heroes. For uniting this country.

There’s so much going on there – betrayal, the end of a friendship, racism, power, manifest destiny.

And Black Fox spends the whole monologue just listening, processing the arrogance and the barely hidden threat being thrown at him, realizing what his "friend" is telling him – if the Indians had acted more White they wouldn’t have been slaughtered. Jackson hints at the subject of the song that follows, "Second Nature," about the questionable morality at the heart of Manifest Destiny and American expansionism.

But Black Fox also carries the weight of knowing he has betrayed – and also murdered – his own people. Black Fox says, "Andrew, I have handed you the lands of at least eleven tribes. I did this with you, together as friends, behind their backs, because you promised – I have killed my own people for you!" Black Fox has made this deal with the devil, choosing to betray his people and his land, to live in the White world. But he only had a place there as long as he was needed. Now he’s become a problem, so he’s being discarded.

That’s some serious, serious shit.

Add on top of that the appearance of Jackson’s adopted Native American son Lyncoya, who brings moral gray area with him every time he steps onstage. Here Lyncoya is a reminder of the complexity of race in America, both then and now. After all, Lyncoya is only here because Jackson slaughtered his family in the Seminole Wars. And as Jackson and Black Fox debate the thorny issue of relocation (and by extension genocide), Lyncoya reminds us (again) that issues of race in America are never clear or simple. After Lyncoya leaves the office, Black Fox changes his mind and decides not to sign the treaty. Is it seeing Lyncoya, a Native American boy growing up in the white world, that causes Black Fox’s change of heart?

This is a story about life and death, power and corruption, compromise and betrayal, and lots of moral ambiguity. The brilliant Alex Timbers has written a script that employs the Spoonful of Sugar trick – he makes you laugh all night and then leaves your brain full of very difficult questions to grapple with on the way home.

Like the legendary director-writer Bertolt Brecht, Timbers and Friedman do everything in their power to remind you of the artificiality of theatre, to distance you emotionally, to engage you only intellectually. But like Brecht, they essentially "fail" because they do connect to their audience very powerfully on an emotional level. Audiences feel conflicted about Jackson. That’s the point. He’s both hero and villain. And so is Black Fox. We know, watching this show in 2012, that America wouldn’t be here today if we hadn’t taken all this land from the Native Americans, slaughtering many of them in the process. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson makes us face up to that.

The Saddest Song

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson seems upon first viewing like a very clever period biography that points up some interesting parallels to our own times. But it’s also something slightly different from that. Something bigger and more ambitious. It’s a story about politics in America, not just then, but now. Always.

It’s a show about us.

It’s about the election of 1828, but it’s also about the election of 2008. And 1932. And 1980 and 1992 and 2012. It’s not just about Andrew Jackson; it’s about you and me. This show is a companion piece to Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Assassins, not just in its political content but in its agenda. This is not a show about historical authenticity; it’s about emotional authenticity, about our collective emotional state.

When Jackson says to Black Fox, "I’m the will of the people," we notice that he doesn’t say he represents or understands the will of the people; no, he is the will of the people. He sees himself as the literal embodiment of America. Midway through the show, Jackson says to us, "And you can say, whatever, that I’ve killed a lot of people, that I’m a cowboy or a murderer or even that I represent the national character of this country. Because I kind of do." Bookwriter Alex Timbers is giving us a sly little meta-moment there, as Jackson reveals a world-class ego but also admits directly to the audience that he functions as a metaphor in this show. Like all great art, but more explicitly than most, this show is a cultural mirror, and we may be surprised at what we see there.

As a nation, we can be selfish, greedy, paranoid, stubborn, impatient, violent, jingoistic, self-righteous, and only sometimes self-aware. Democracy is messy. Democracy means that stupid people get the same vote as smart people. A crazy person’s vote counts the same as a sane person’s vote. Democracy is a collective act – that is its miracle and its greatest weakness. A country truly run by the people who live there was a radical idea that even the Founders didn’t totally believe in – they didn’t want women, people of color, or men who didn’t own land to have a say in our democracy, only those elite white men who were morally and intellectually superior, in their own estimation of course. Jacksonian Democracy terrified John Quincy Adams and his circle of elites. The reason we see so many parallels between the elections of 1828 and 2008 (and 1992, 1980, etc.) is that the central character is the same – the American people, the worst of us right alongside the best of us. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is about that complex mix of good and bad in each of us and in our collective national character.

And even beyond the parallels to modern-day politics, BBAJ also implies the politics of just a few decades later, when secession and Civil War became a reality. In the final Oval Office scene between Jackson and Black Fox, Jackson says, "And what I also promise you? Is you sign this treaty here tonight and in thirty years, you and I are gonna look like fucking heroes. For uniting this country." The moment is thick with irony as the audience realizes that thirty years from that moment, America will not be anything close to "united," but will instead be shattered by Civil War. We know what’s to come but Jackson does not. He thinks he put to rest the question of secession when he stonewalls Calhoun, but we in the audience knows he has not. Like CabaretBBAJ implies as much as it shows.

The beginning and end of any well-written piece of storytelling will tell you the writer’s central agenda. In Sondheim’s Company, the first and last songs totally encapsulate Bobby’s long arc from an inward worldview to an outward one; the first song is entirely about Bobby, but the last song is about "someone" else. Similarly, in High Fidelity, the first and last songs shows us Rob’s arc from emotional selfishness to emotional self-less-ness. And here in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the first and last songs define Jackson’s (our?) journey from the superficiality of mindless American populism inward to its dark underbelly and unintended consequences, from the shallow "Populism, Yea, Yea!" to the sobering "Second Nature." Instead of going from one place or time to another, as most narratives do, this show goes from the outer shell inward. The audience accepts the show’s dual time period (always both then and now at the same time) because this journey is the same in every period. As the show plays out, we spin deeper and deeper into the complexity of America, of politics, of race, of Jackson himself, and of us as a people. It’s a classic hero myth, but it’s us on that journey, the American people as protagonist – and it’s a journey we’re still on in 2012.

Timbers’ writing here is deceptively complex. Like Hair, this is a show that feels unpolished, chaotic, spontaneous, out of control. But also like Hair, it is very skillfully and artfully constructed. Though the character of Jackson often seems ridiculous and childish, though he may seem like a cartoon sometimes, he’s actually a very real, complicated man. There’s a wonderful moment late in the show when Jackson crashes into reality, as he first starts to comprehend how different the world actually is from how he has always perceived it.

It’s the second-to-last number in the show, "The Saddest Song." In yet another meltdown, with Jackson screaming and cursing at some tourists in the Oval Office, they run out and he yells after them, "The people aren’t going to stop Andrew Jackson from doing what it is that Andrew Jackson knows that the people want!" Once, he saw himself representing the People; now he sees them as an obstacle. We can see here that he takes too seriously his own symbolism in this complicated, new populist world. All through the story, he has bullied and battled to get what he wants, playing by his own rules, rarely suffering any consequences. But once he’s elected, everything changes – and he rages against this new world:

When it stops being fun

And your patience is done

And you see being president’s hard,

With this country before you

That cannot be governed

You find yourself powerless, bloody, and scarred.

But whoever said running the country would be fun? It’s like Jackson is stomping his feet and yelling, "It’s not fair!" Where’s the swaggering hero of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend? Jackson is the President of the United States and yet he feels powerless. He feels alone, he feels both handcuffed and responsible – probably like every President in American history. He’s no longer the cocky but charming bully-hero. He has lost his mojo. He rages on:

And what is it for, the love of the people?

Who is it for, this nation we made?

That guy who did everything his way,

Where has he gone?

So tonight I’ll sing the saddest songs

To everyone that I’ve done wrong,

And if you don’t know how to sing along

Well I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,

But the band plays on.

This is a song about self-pity. It might remind us of the line from Chicago, "And now, Miss Roxie Hart and Miss Velma Kelly sing a song of unrelenting determination and unmitigated ego." Jackson proceeds to position himself as the Biblical prophet Jeremiah, and the comparison is a fascinating one. According to Wikipedia, "God’s personal message to Jeremiah, ‘Attack you they will, overcome you they can’t,’ was fulfilled many times in the Biblical narrative. Jeremiah was attacked by his own brothers, beaten and put into the stocks by a priest and false prophet, imprisoned by the king, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern by Judah’s officials, and opposed by a false prophet." The comparison reveals Jackson’s lifelong persecution complex. He sings:

Jeremiah looked down

On the people of Judah

And told them their future was bloody and cursed.

When I think of the conflict

And the change that awaits us,

It’s gonna be hard

But this country comes first.

On the other hand, Jackson’s right, isn’t he? We know that America’s future will be bloody and cursed, from the Civil War and lynchings in the South during Reconstruction (and up through the 1960s), World Wars I and II, the bloody Civil Rights movement in the 50s and 60s, Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq...

Jackson’s warnings echo President Obama’s reminders during the 2008 election that change never comes quickly or easily, that those who oppose change (in the show, JQ Adams, Calhoun, Clay) will fight hard to preserve the status quo. Jackson is gearing up for battle.

Revolutions will come to you,

Swift if you let them.

The nation united cannot be undone.

Adams, Jefferson, Washington,

Monroe, and Madison

Started a war but it’s hardly begun.

We didn’t just fight for independence from the King of England, the lyric suggests; we fought more broadly for our freedom from a powerful few dictating to the rest – something Jackson and his followers saw happening again in the first years of our nation. (Jackson refers to "King George Washington" in one scene.) The country had been born decades earlier, but Jackson had begun a new battle, one to wrest power from the rich and privileged and put it truly into the hands of the people. This is a song  – a soliloquy, really – about creative destruction. The stage direction says, "The song has become a raging anthem of aggression and venom," as Jackson continues:

So we’ll ruin the bank

And we’ll cripple the courts

And we’ll take on the world for

America’s sake.

We’ll take all the land,

And we’ll take back the country,

We’ll take and we’ll take,

And we’ll take and we’ll take ...

It’s a scorched earth campaign he proposes here, to ruin, to cripple, to take. He’s at war with the Second Bank of the United States, with the Supreme Court, with the Indian nations, with Congress, and with the South, now threatening to secede. His promise to "take back the country" certainly conjures today’s Tea Party. But Jackson is not done fighting yet (is he ever?), even if the polls are turning against him. Notice that it’s no longer "the people" making this country, now it’s Jackson alone that will save us.

And this country I’m making

Cannot be divided.

The will of the people

Won’t stand in my way.

How can I tell you

How deeply I’ll make them all bleed?

And so I’ll sing the saddest songs,

Of enemies who did me wrong,

And the war will go on

And on and on

And on and on

And on as long as we need...

Even on into the twenty-first century.

It’s Second Nature to Us

The best theatre makes us laugh like idiots and also makes important, serious, insightful commentary about our world and our lives – shows like Bat Boy, Urinetown, High Fidelity, Cry-Baby, Spelling Bee, and of course, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

This show is wacky, it’s rude and vulgar, it’s irreverent, and it’s also a serious piece of theatre about American politics and American culture, about our collective shallowness and childishness. The American people usually have contradictory, even nonsensical opinions. Right now, the polls tells us that a majority of Americans think we should cut spending and reduce our deficit, but they also don’t want any changes to social security, Medicare, and other popular programs. That’s the mindset BBAJ is satirizing, and Jackson will soon learn that asking the people what they think will never get him to a solution. As one of Jackson’s cheerleaders tells him, "It’s not my job to decide about this shit!" And she’s right. Jackson takes his share of satirical punches in this show, but so do the American people.

With shows like this, there’s always a point in the evening when the show "earns" our respect and rises above mere laughs or outrageousness, when the show leads us down a path of wacky comedy to a suddenly powerful, sobering moment. Both Bat Boy and Urinetown "earn it" at the end. High Fidelity earns it in Rob and Liz’s fight late in Act II right before the funeral scene. Spelling Bee earns it with "The I Love You Song." And Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson earns it at the end with Michael Friedman’s powerful, poetic, emo ballad "Second Nature." None of the characters have this kind of self-knowledge or this outside-of-time perspective on our history, so this moment belongs to the band soloist, someone who stands outside the story all night, a kind of rock and roll Greek chorus.

"Second Nature" addresses head-on one of the central themes of the story – a child-like blindness to consequences. The band soloist sings:

The grass grows,

A prairie,

A wilderness,

Across a continent.

And we take it,

We clear it out,

And make it in our image.

The backyards,

The driveways,

The covered wagons rushing through the high plains,

And motels on the canyon...

They make a second nature.

We remake nature "in our image," bend it to our will, clear it out, pour concrete and blacktop, destroy and create, and we make it into something other than it was. We make it a "second" nature, one that looks like the real thing but is controlled and restricted in a way that real nature never is. We make it a "human nature," to re-coin a phrase, and it can never again be truly natural.

The nature that the Native Americans loved, cared for, lived off of, and prayed to, had to be destroyed to create a new "unnatural" nature. This idea is a more subtle, more political version of the same point in the song "The Colors of the Wind" in Disney’s Pocahontas. "Second Nature" goes on...

What was it for,

This country?

The farms and the blood across the prairie?

The nation we become

As we build a second nature.

No no no,

No no no...

Jackson "tamed" the frontier and tripled the size of our country, but "What was it for?" Did our conquering civilization improve the virgin wilderness of our continent or did we make it worse? Was the slaughter of tens of thousands of people (Native Americans, Spaniards, and others) a necessary component of our national evolution or just the White Man’s clumsy greed? And what exactly is the nature of "the nation we become as build a second nature"? How does our destruction and re-creation change who we are as a people? When Jackson secured Florida for us by slaughtering innocent thousands, how did that change the American identity?

As we worry today about genetically engineered foods, hormone-injected animal meat, oil spills, carbon emissions and climate change – this second nature we have created – BBAJ forces us to recognize that even though some Americans need to believe that America is the unquestionably good (even divinely blessed) Greatest Nation on Earth, the real world is full of gray area. And so is this story. There is much complexity in America’s history, just as there is in Jackson’s personal biography, and BBAJ chronicles one of our messiest, most morally ambiguous periods. Nothing in the real world can be all good or all bad. Gray area is an inescapable part of life. It’s what makes life interesting and complicated, and it’s also why humans require art to make sense of it all. So here, America is the central character every bit as much as – more than? – Andrew Jackson.

The repeated No’s throughout "Second Nature" – words of resistance, denial, regret, maybe even delusion? – are just as complicated as the rest of the lyric. In a sense, the lyric speaks both for Jackson and for Americans today as we look back on our history. We want to resist or deny the death and slaughter that grew our nation. We want to deny that we gave the Native Americans "smallpox blankets" to help kill them off. We want to look away from our collective act of paving over much of America’s natural beauty. We celebrate Eisenhower’s achievement of creating the interstate highway system in the 1950s, but in listening to this song, that great achievement sinks into gray area too, a gray area we try to ignore as we speed from place to place.

But the No’s also form a kind of bookend with the show’s opening, "Populism, Yea! Yea!" Jackson’s story begins in rowdy optimism and the love of his countrymen, as the whole cast sings, "Yea! Yea!" over and over. And the show ends at the sunset of Jackson’s life, with a single soloist and a moody emo ballad, repeating, "No, no, no... No, no, no..." The music beneath the No’s switches back and forth from major to minor and back again, providing a parallel musical/emotional gray area. Is the soloist telling Jackson he was wrong, that he took the wrong path in life...? Is he telling him that he had the wrong values and the wrong priorities? Or maybe the soloist is just making the point that nothing is only good or only bad, that the good that came from Jackson’s actions carried lots of bad with it too.

Maybe the soloist becomes History in the same way the Storyteller has been throughout the first part of the show, and he’s telling Jackson that America’s founding impulses weren’t just to kill and take and destroy, that Jackson misunderstood – and forever changed – America’s national character. From the soloist’s and Storyteller’s point of view, both standing outside of time, Jackson failed morally. His kill-and-take strategy would continue to grow America after he was gone, but at what moral, spiritual price?

The band soloist continues...

The rivers run,

And parking lots,

The endless, endless fields and cities.

We make them,

Replace them with

All our dreams of the future.

And what was it for?

The swimming pools?

The highways?

The ballgames in the dusk, on the battle fields?

A time we were so foolish and so young.

No no no,

No no no.

And the song ends with an insightful and disturbing conclusion about America as Despoiler, and a return to the more conventional meaning of "second nature" – an acquired behavior or trait that is so long practiced as to seem innate. But it only seems innate. It’s artificially created but we perceive it as natural. It’s a second nature.

The grass grows.

We take it.

We want it.

It’s second nature to us.

It has always been our (seemingly) innate impulse to just take what we want, the show is telling us, and we try our best to ignore the moral implications as much as we can – just as Jackson does throughout the show. But there is always a price to pay. This is serious, subtle storytelling about America as a nation, slyly camouflaged throughout most of the show behind rowdy, wacky, high-energy comedy. But it’s devastatingly truthful comedy. It’s real in all the ways great theatre always is. And like all great storytelling it leads us to a deeper, fuller understanding of ourselves and our world.

Underscore, Motherfuckers

The character of Andrew Jackson in this show (as distinct from the actual man) goes from rowdy, vulgar, angsty teenager to darker, more self-aware adult. In that process he stands in for America as a country, crossing over from national childhood through adolescence. But the show itself does the same thing.

The evening starts off with some off-color sex jokes (from a  contemporary perspective, we might even say Jackson sexually harasses the audience), followed by lots of angsty whining in the first song, then a silly and shallow version of Jackson’s early biography. The show itself is juvenile here.

But the evening ends with the complexity of real world consequences short-circuiting Jackson’s swagger and ambition, followed by an assessment of Jackson’s atrocities against Native Americans, even going so far as to call him "an American Hitler." By this point, the show is about the weight and weariness of being an adult, about the consequences of a (collective?) life lived recklessly. In the last thirty minutes, the show becomes serious, adult storytelling. And then in the final moments of the show, as the last great irony in an evening chock full of ironies, the band strikes up a driving punk version of Jackson’s real-life campaign song, "The Hunters of Kentucky," letting its shallow, folk storytelling bang up uncomfortably against the very sophisticated, nuanced story and the moral ambiguity we’ve just been left with. But where it’s placed in the show, as a kind of epilogue, "The Hunters of Kentucky" also makes a final, subliminal point about the nature of storytelling itself, its construction, its bias, its agenda, its place in the culture, and by turning this folk song into a driving punk anthem, Friedman and Timbers marry the two storytelling forms and reinforce one last time the double time-frame of the show.

The audience leaves feeling "up" from the rowdy rock music but also conflicted about all the darkness they’ve just seen play out. It also reminds us, perhaps subconsciously, that Jackson’s greatest triumphs were made by his younger, cockier self, long before he was President, long before he had to settle The Indian Question and argue with Congress about tariffs. After all, it’s easy to be a bully. It’s hard to be President.

Even the length of the scenes increases as the show unfolds, progressively taking more and more time to go deeper, to explore contradiction, self-delusion, complexity. Timbers and Friedman drop hints all through the show about the central theme of maturing – backstage at the political rally when Jackson asks why he can’t live both the lives he wants, Rachel answers, "Because you’re an adult." It’s the first time we come up this explicitly against Jackson’s tragic flaw. Emotional teenager Jackson is not equipped for the problems and complexity of the real world, and this moment foreshadows his unraveling later on in the Oval Office. It’s hard not to see George W. Bush in this aspect of the character.

The Bloody Bloody score also "grows up" in this same way. It starts with the wild, heavy, driving emo rock of "Populism, Yea, Yea!" a lyric consciously swimming in shallowness, with a chorus that really contains only one word until the last line:

Populism, Yea, Yea!

Populism, Yea, Yea!

Populism, Yea, Yea!

Populism, Yea, Yea!

This is the age of Jackson.

This lyric tells us almost nothing, other than just nakedly announcing one of the show’s themes. But at the same time, it also tells us a lot subliminally about the point of view of the show, its tone, its humor, its political satire. It presents us with an ironic swipe at the often mindless over-simplicity of American politics; and it sets up the double-time-period device, as it tells us this is the Jacksonian Era but set to driving rock and roll. In a (probably intentional) break from conventional musical theatre rules, this opening number doesn’t do all the plot and character setup that most openings do, in shows like High Fidelity, Bat Boy, Company, Assassins, Jesus Christ Superstar, Songs for a New World...  Instead it defiantly refuses to do those things on the surface, while sort of doing some of them anyway subtextually and musically. The verse of "Populism, Yea, Yea!" returns later in the show as counterpoint, now standing in as a metaphor for Jackson’s emotional state.

As the score progresses, it moves from rowdy to nuanced. "Rock Star," halfway through the show, is the last fully rock number. (One might argue that "The Saddest Song" is pretty driving rock and roll, but it’s also essentially a waltz – that’s really interesting, melding the two periods musically, but it does make the song less than fully rock and roll.) The next two songs, "The Great Compromise" and "Public Life," the two songs about the consequences of our actions, both start smaller and quieter, and then are taken over by rock and roll by their ends, as the score goes through a musical transformation. After that, the last four songs have more ambiguous endings, leading the audience less certainly toward applause – and since applause is often an emotional release, keeping the audience from applauding builds tension. Both "Crisis Averted #1" and "Crisis Averted #2" end very abruptly, without a musical "button" on the end, which normally cues applause. "The Saddest Song" doesn’t end at all – it stops mid-phrase and segues directly into the last big dialogue scene between Jackson and Black Fox. It’s a brilliant move because it takes us directly from inside Jackson’s chaotic emotions straight into the powerful dramatic tension of his final one-on-one negotiation. And likewise, "Second Nature" does not resolve itself harmonically at the end of the song, making it sound like it doesn’t finish – and maybe that’s part of the message of its lyric. Our "taking" continues...

Bloody and Cursed

You wouldn’t think there’d be that many musicals that use the word fuck, but there are. You wouldn’t think that because most people hear the word musical and think old-fashioned musical. Which they probably hate. Ask an average person on the street to name a musical and you probably get a Rodgers and Hammerstein title before you get something written in the last ten years. But almost all the really interesting new shows have very adult language.

Because that’s how people talk.

Lots of musicals use the word fuck, including High Fidelity, Passing Strange, bare, Hair, Bat Boy, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Grease, Assassins, Sunday in the Park with George, Rocky Horror, Best Little Whorehouse, A New Brain, and others. 

One regional review of BBAJ said that the obscene language revealed lazy writing. Not true. The language here is a very strong and – surprisingly enough – very subtle narrative device that accomplishes two important jobs.

Jackson curses all the time because he fancies himself a rebel. He doesn’t follow rules. His language is an act of aggression. He assaults people – including the audience – with his words. When he first enters at the beginning of the show, he interacts briefly with the audience and what may seem like a naughty "throw-away" moment is actually an important establishment of the tone and agenda of the evening. Jackson uses his language to bludgeon and to flamboyantly reject the "polite society" he associates with New England and John Quincy Adams, and also to wage an assault on those "higher classes" and their more "refined sensibilities." Jackson is a frontiersman and there are no rules on the frontier. A prime example of all this is his first campaign speech in the show, as music starts underneath:

Uh-huh. That’s right. Underscore, motherfuckers. That means it’s our time. Time for the real people of this nation – you and me – time for us to take this fucker back. We’re gonna walk right up to President Momoe’s house and we’re going to show him that the name Ol’ Hickory doesn’t only pertain to the length and girth of my penis. No, it also pertains to the inflexible and unyielding brand of populism that we’re gonna shove four-and-a-half inches up his ass!

Language as a weapon. Even the title of the music that accompanies this speech is obscene – "Underscore, Motherfuckers."  The audience doesn’t know that, but it tells the actors and musicians something. In this retelling of his life story, Jackson is Johnny Strabler, Jim Stark, Danny Zuko, and Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker, the tough guy with the emotional boy inside, rejecting the world that’s already rejected him. And all that gets expressed in Jackson’s obscenities.

The other reason for the language is about time and place. David Milch, the creator of the brilliant HBO series Deadwood talks in one of the DVD commentaries about why he used such pervasive obscenity in his dialogue, and his answer is purely artistic. He wanted his audience to feel the lawlessness and wildness of that time and place. Most of us could never imagine a world like that, with no laws, no authority, no social compact, no rules beyond survival. So Milch decided to use extreme, "lawless" language to get at that danger and chaos. The joke among Deadwood lovers is that the complex, poetic dialogue often sounds like Shakespeare wrote it, and every other word is cocksucker or motherfucker. (And now that I think about it, if Shakespeare was writing today, he’d probably use those words too. He loved his dirty jokes and obscene insults.) Milch admits that many of the curse words he used in Deadwood weren’t even invented until later, but they’re not there for historical authenticity; the words are there for the sense of that world that we can feel viscerally no other way.

The same is true of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. The obscene language creates a world of verbal and moral anarchy which underlines and connects subliminally with Jackson’s own lack of a moral code, his massacre of Native Americans and his other immoral – amoral? – acts. It gives us a sense of what the Washington establishment thought of this vulgar frontiersman invading their insular, tightly controlled little world. He horrified them, just as he (comically) horrifies us when he says he’ll fill us with "popula-jism."

As Van Buren would say, Yuck.

There are shows that use obscenities gratuitously (Silence!, The Book of Mormon), but Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson isn’t one of them.

But maybe we should take a step back here. Why not use curse words? People use these words. Why shouldn’t characters in our storytelling use these words? One reason so many new shows contain the word fuck is that younger writers are no longer afraid to use that word in a musical, if it’s organic to the character and situation.

The Corrupt Bargain

Just as the show itself matures along with Jackson and our young nation, it also fully embodies a rejection of rules and conventions that parallels a similar rejection of the rules of the New Englanders by Jackson and the frontiersmen. Stephen Sondheim famously believes that Content Dictates Form, that the story dictates the kind of storytelling. In almost every way, this show’s creators, Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, have created a show that is its story.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson careens from style to style, from serious to wacky to darkly ironic, from introspection to ironic detachment. It keeps us off balance. There are no conventional signposts to grab onto here. And that’s part of the point.

One great example of this is the scene-song "The Corrupt Bargain." We get to Jackson’s first real defeat and the show stops the story cold to explain the politics of what just happened. Brecht would love it. So would Sondheim. This song purposefully breaks every rule of musical theatre. It describes action instead of showing it. It offers commentary, but it’s unreliable commentary. It literally embodies the absurdity of the politics it describes in its mindless, comically pointless dance breaks. The song uses both direct narration to the audience and dialogue, but there’s something wrong with these narrators, and as this reveals itself over the course of the song, it once again throws us off course. We can’t trust the narrators?

And who is the narrator in this show, by the way? It starts out being the Storyteller, but once she’s removed from the story, the bandleader takes over. But sometimes the actors narrate. There’s no consistent voice to the story’s narration and once again, that’s a conscious choice. There is no objectivity in American politics, TImbers and Friedman are telling us. Everyone has a different perspective and that colors what they see and how they talk about it. And this lack of a consistent narrative voice is also subtextually a commentary on storytelling itself, on bias, on narrative agenda, and on our current struggle to talk about our world in a time when the two opposing sides of American society (liberal and conservative) can’t even agree on what is objectively true and what is not.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson fully and consciously embodies this moment when facts have become a matter of opinion, and the show plays around (a lot) with how that affects the retelling of history. Even within "The Corrupt Bargain," whose voice do these girls represent? They’re not The People here, and they’re not on Jackson’s side or his opponents’ side. But they’re also not omniscient or objective like conventional narrators. On top of that, they’re both shallow and bad historians. Every time the girls seem to be invoking the perspective of an historical figure for a little extra insight, they also short-circuit that reference at the same time. For example...

Alexis De Tocqueville says something in French

That none of us can translate...

. . .

James Madison said something prescient about this

But he was kind of a dick...

. . .

I’m sure Michel Foucault would have an opinion

But he hasn’t been born yet...

These girls are objective only in the sense that they don’t much seem to care about any of this. On the other hand, they sort of seem to agree with the Washington elitists. Just look at how they describe Jackson: "Do you really want America run by a man from Tennessee?" And even more potent, "Do you really want the American people running their own country?" That was a real debate at the time! Who is ‘worthy" of voting rights? John Quincy Adams would have been right at home with the GOP’s 2012 campaign of voter suppression. Notice how the conservatives talk about the American people in this song, satirically but powerfully putting contemporary audiences in mind of Mitt Romney’s infamous "47%" comments, even though those comments had not been made yet when the show was written.

Adams: The people are stupid.

Clay: They can all go rot.

Calhoun: They’re lame.

Adams: They suck.

Inside all this silliness, satire, dancing, and jokes, "The Corrupt Bargain" actually paints for us a very accurate and accessible picture of how Adams, Clay, Calhoun, et al. literally stole the 1824 election from Jackson. By the end of the song, we really do understand the infamous Corrupt Bargain. And for modern-day liberals, it’s hard not to see a parallel to the controversial Bush v. Gore decision by the Supreme Court in 2000.

Like the rest of the show, this song delivers on plot, satire, entertainment, and contemporary political commentary. It contains the three elements of good art – Poetry, Popcorn, and Politics, or in other words, artistry, entertainment, and substance. The song is incredibly well-constructed and deceptively subtle in its agenda. Like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, this song (and the whole show) is both hilarious and serious at the same time. Brecht would have been very proud.

This is a show about important, consequential things, about America, about our politics and how we choose to live together in this experiment we call American democracy, about the dark side of populism (Sarah Palin, anyone?), about the complexity of morality and the impossible choices our leaders face every day. In short, this is a show about the real world and about us. And that’s what makes thrilling, potent theatre.

Crisis Averted

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a hybrid of the two new forms in the American musical theatre in this new century. On the one hand, it’s a neo musical comedy, using the tools of old-school musical comedy melded to the irony, moral ambiguity, and socio-political content of our current Age of Irony (which arguably started in the 60s but took over pop culture in the 90s). But it’s also a neo rock musical (like Next to Normal), blending rock music with the tools of the Rodgers and Hammerstein model but jettisoning R&H’s ponderous mid-century morality for a more complex – and more real – look at human emotion and interaction. After all, that’s what politics is – human emotion and interaction – and that’s why politics is inherently dramatic.

One of those R&H tools that this show retains is the reprise. When our art form was still young, musicals used reprises (a repeat or approximate repeat of a song we’ve already heard) to remind the audience of the hit tune the producers wanted them to buy (recordings or sheet music) after they saw the show. Or sometimes a reprise gave the secondary leads another musical slot in Act II that they wouldn’t otherwise get.

But Rodgers and Hammerstein changed that. Well, really Hammerstein changed that, most famously with Show Boat in 1927, but even more regularly and confidently in his shows with Rodgers. Since Hammerstein, reprises have been more functional and less decorative. In shows built on the R&H model, a reprise revisits an earlier moment, but in a new context, with (sometimes only subtextually) new meaning. A reprise refers back to the first hearing of the song, but it doesn’t just repeat it. Either the lyric is different to fit the new circumstances, or the lyric is the same but it means something substantially different in this new context. Probably the clearest example is "Let Me Entertain You" in Gypsy, a song literally designed for its reprises. The first time we hear it, it’s an intentionally bland kiddie song; later on, it becomes an ironic symbol of the maturing girls being trapped in their childish roles; and at the end it become Louise’s strip number and the lyric takes on a much darker, more complex meaning about sex, objectification, power. This one seemingly simplistic song goes from kiddie number to sexual invitation. 

And Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson handles reprises with equal intelligence. The show’s aggressive opening number, "Populism, Yea Yea!," operates on so many levels, both sincere and ironically Brechtian at the same time. These characters think this inarticulate cheer means something, but the writers are also telling us at the same time that the characters are shallow and trivial, that they are to be dismissed. And that tells the audience a lot about how this show will operate. And it also immediately sets the debate for the evening – is populism good or bad? Of course, the answer is it’s both. And we see that it is both as we hear the song reprised throughout the show. It returns, really more as a leitmotif (music connected to an idea or character) than a reprise, marking moments of populism throughout the story, as commentary, counterpoint, even as an acknowledgement of its own dark side when Rachel quotes it in "The Great Compromise." She’s sees what’s wrong with populism here, but Jackson still doesn’t.

The whole score plays with the idea of a leitmotif/reprise. "I’m So That Guy" starts as a new song, but after only one verse, it bursts into counterpoint, with Jackson singing a reprise of "I’m Not That Guy" and the rest of the cast singing the first verse of  "Populism, Yea, Yea!" And the counterpoint of these two songs subliminally suggests the immaturity and shallowness behind Jackson’s confidence and ambition. While Jackson’s vocal soars over the rest, they shift back and forth between the first verse of this number, and the chorus of "Populism, Yea, Yea!" It’s a crazy, irrational, passionate mess. Just like Jackson’s emotions. Content dictates form.

"Public Life" is another example of this same device. It begins as a new song, an emotional ballad for Jackson, as he mourns for his wife. But by the second verse, his focus is already moving from his wife to his People. Soon the People join him, reprising "I’m Not That Guy," the song Jackson sang the last time he was faced with a major life choice and started off on a new path. The chorus is his inner voice. Suddenly the song bursts into three-way contrapuntal life. On top, Jackson takes on a new melody, with a lyric about "change" that could have come out of an Obama speech. Half the ensemble continues with the reprise of "I’m Not That Guy," and the other half of the ensemble picks up a campaign ditty that we heard in the background of Rachel’s "The Great Compromise."  This third lyric – "Jackson’s back! He’s got it going on!" repeated over and over – reminds us of the vapidity and mindlessness of populism in general and Jackson’s followers in specific. There is no there there. Jackson may be the voice of the People, but the People aren’t really paying attention. By the end of the song, Jackson is singing, "The path is clear and I’ve made my choice. I’m gonna listen to the people’s voice," more empty words, as the rest of the cast returns to the chorus of "Populism, Yea, Yea!"

"The Great Compromise" is a remarkable piece of writing. It moves us forward in the plot, it takes us through several different emotional states in Jackson, and it provides a funny but straight-faced, socio-political context for it all, which sets up the complex obstacles ahead for him in later scenes.

The only true reprise in the show is "Crisis Averted," which bookends the first section of the Oval Office scene towards the end of the show, functioning both as commentary and as Jackson’s inner voice. This song frames the biggest turning point in the story. It’s a peppy little tune, more like They Might Be Giants than an emo band. In "Crisis Averted #1" it’s all about optimism, immortality, invincibility. In this first version, they sing:

Crisis averted!

He’s taking a stand

And the best part is

Everything he says is right.

I really think

That this will work.

We’re young.

We’ll live forever.

At least for one more night.

My luck will hold this time,

It always has before.

So I  think, I think it just might work.

Then the cheerleaders abandon Jackson, and in "Crisis Averted #2" it’s all about the end, mortality, failure. This time they sing, still to the same peppy music:

Crisis averted!

I’m going alone

And the best part is

Everything I say is right.

Did you really think

That this would work?

You’re fucked.

You won’t live forever.

Your luck won’t hold this time.

It won’t be like before.

It’s never, it’s never gonna work.

The perky music accomplishes so much. First it tells us that even the narrators – the band soloist and the other actors – don’t care what happens to our hero. We’ve gone from hero-worshipping narrator (the Storyteller) at the beginning, to the band soloist as uninvolved narrator, to shallow girls (in "The Corrupt Bargain") and later random actors, as the most disinterested narrators of all. But these two songs also bracket the moment when the Good Times turn Bad. It’s when Jackson’s personal cheerleaders leave the Oval Office because "this isn’t fun anymore" and "direct democracy directly applied is totes lame" that the tone changes.

Up till now, the cheerleaders in the Oval Office seem like a cheap running joke. But here we see they represent the public, the voters, us; and the relationship between them and Jackson takes on fascinating, much more complicated colors. When the cheerleaders turn on him, we have turned on him, just as American liberals did to some extent to Obama in 2010. And when Jackson loses the people, he loses everything. He feeds on their adoration. His whole persona is wrapped up in his populism, his status as the People’s President, but can he still be the People’s President when the people don’t want him anymore? As the song says, "You’re fucked." (Notice that the first version of "Crisis Averted" contains no obscenities, but the second version does.) Things are different now, these songs tell us. "It won’t be like before."

This turning point (the cheerleaders leaving) is really important, but because it’s subtle, these two matching songs underline it for us. Just the way Brecht liked it. And they’re funny songs too. And that’s great writing.

Why Don’t You Just Shoot Me in the Head?

Shakespeare loved the soliloquy. These days, most theatre people refer to a soliloquy as an "interior monologue." It’s just the character thinking out loud. Think of "To be or not to be" in Hamlet or that amazing opening monologue in Richard III. Opera turned the soliloquy into the aria. American musical comedy turned it into the "I Want" song – like "My White Knight" in The Music Man, "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" in Grease, "Being Alive" in Company, or "The I Love You Song" in Spelling Bee. And at about the same time the musical comedy was first blossoming, Bertolt Brecht was in Germany working on surprisingly similar devices, including fourth-wall-ignoring monologues.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson borrows from both these more recent traditions, old-school musical comedy and Brecht. The BBAJ song "The Great Compromise" is a prime example. It functions as a pure "I Want" song for Rachel, and in telling us what she wants, she also tells us who she is, what her relationship with Jackson has become, what she thinks of his politics, and lots more. But it also functions as a Brechtian, split-screen illustration of Jackson’s fractured life. The song alternates between Rachel’s lament and dialogue between a couple who met and fell in love at a Jackson rally, representing two opposing perceptions of Jackson. And they’re light years apart. This is a song about consequences, a theme which will be thrown into stark relief in the song "Public Life." Rachel sees only the private Jackson and finds him selfish and immature. The couple sees only the public Jackson and they see him as essentially perfect. The last line of the dialogue inside the song is the woman in the couple concluding that "Jackson is love." And yet his wife is miserable and alone. Jackson creates love in the one case and destroys it in the other. Sometimes our heroes are assholes.

The centerpiece of the show is the driving "Rock Star," and like the rest of the score, it works on several levels at once. In the scene leading up to the song, Rachel gives Jackson an ultimatum – if he runs for office again, they’re through. And the last line before the music erupts is Van Buren’s "So what’re you gonna do?" It’s time for a choice. A big one. But as any general knows, you have to assess the battlefield first.

A soloist appears who acts as Jackson’s inner thoughts, as he works his way through his dilemma. From the point of view of the singer – and Jackson – all the previous Presidents tried to be rock stars, but they all failed. They just weren’t up to it.

Washington crossed the Delaware river.

Washington acted like a rock star.

Washington made America deliver.

Washington tried to be a rock star.

But all the fame that he had won,

It wasn’t really any fun,

And soon the people started turnin’.

Whoa, whoa, whoa...

That boy who couldn’t tell a lie,

Two terms, and then he said goodbye,

And Georgie went back to Mt. Vernon.

Only Jackson can pull it off! Or so says Jackson. Not even Washington could do it. Of course, the truth is Jackson will also fail in many ways, just like the others, because it’s an impossible job. But he can’t see that. The chorus of this song is brilliantly conceived. Like the show’s other songs, it never comes at its subject straight on, but instead from around a corner, through a different lens. Jackson’s mind (and lyricist Michael Friedman’s lyric) comes at the idea of the Presidency through self-righteous outrage – outrage, you’ll notice, over an offense not yet committed – or is he still talking about the 1824 election that was stolen from him...?

Why don’t you just shoot me in the head,

‘Cause you know I’d be better off dead,

If there’s really no place in America

For a celebrity of the first rank!

In other words, an America that wouldn’t elect Jackson to the Presidency is an America not worth living in. Wow. We see here again that Jackson’s ego is considerable, and that will be his tragic flaw. He can’t see his own limitations and inadequacies. He has no self-awareness.

The first part of the song is Jackson’s inner thoughts, but halfway through, when the soloist introduces Jackson, he is reborn – "That’s right, mothafuckas! Jackson’s back!" He has made his decision. He will run again. (Rachel who?) He know he’s better than all those other guys. The song transforms itself from interior monologue to stump speech, and in that transformation it moves the story forward, like any good theatre song should. This is the show’s obligatory moment, the point toward which everything before it leads, and from which everything after it flows. If Jackson makes a different choice here, his life goes down a different path. Rachel might even live longer (at least in this version of the story). But his decision is based on a self-assessment that is not a serious one.

Now as the song continues, it’s Jackson himself singing. He has found his voice and his confidence, he has put Rachel out of his mind, and he’s ready to kick some Republican ass. But notice how shallow and simplistic his views of his predecessors are...

John Adams tried to be an American Idol,

Jefferson tried to be a rock star,

Madison tried to make the Presidency vital,

And James Monroe was a douchebag!

The story always ends the same,

It’s hard to handle all that fame

If you don’t really have it in ya.

Whoa, whoa, whoa...

There’s no place in democracy

For your brand of aristocracy,

So take that shit back to Virginia

(Or Massachusetts, Biatch!)

Note that last dig at his incumbent opponent John Quincy Adams, of Massachusetts. Jackson might as well be holding a sign that says, "We are the 99%!"

And as he repeats the chorus several times, The People join him. It becomes not just Jackson’s opinion, but The People’s opinion as well, that the American Presidency should be able to accommodate a superstar. (It’s hard to ignore parallels to Obama here.) But as they sing, we hear two melodies in counterpoint to the chorus. One is a variation on the earlier bridge:

You thought you were just a Founding Father,

But everyone wants you to be their father.

And the third counterpoint melody is also one we’ve already heard, but set to a new lyric:

But all that fame can take its toll,

The people force you into a role,

And soon the tables will be turnin’.

Yes they will...

These three melodies and lyrics bounce off each other, then finally, everyone comes together on a driving, climactic unison repeat of the chorus. The People are with him! This is not only great music and lyric writing, but it’s great storytelling. The song starts inside Jackson’s head, as pulsing, pounding rock, like a musical migraine in Jackson’s brain, throbbing, almost exploding out of him. Then the song moves from the surrogate inner voice to Jackson’s own voice, then to the voice of The People, alongside but also at odds with Jackson. This is complicated psychology, politics, and storytelling, all rolled into one seriously kickass rock song.

That’s how good and how smart this show is.

Rock Star

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson may not have done all that well commercially on Broadway, but it’s one of the genuinely great works of this new Golden Age. Timbers and Friedman are at the top of their games, and we can’t wait to see what they each do next. Our art form has never been more vigorous or more alive than it is right now. The nonprofit musical theatre wave of the 1990s and the creation of the internet have democratized the musical theatre. Just as Jackson wrested away power from the political elite, today we have wrested away power of the musical theatre from New York commercial producers. And all of us together across the country and around the world are moving the art form forward every day.

It’s clear now in the twenty-first century that rock music is no longer a particularly subversive or rebellious choice in the musical theatre. Just as rock has become part of the fabric of everyday American life, so too has the use of rock music in musicals become unsurprising. The musical theatre has almost always spoken in the voice of American pop music – ragtime in the 1910s, jazz in the 20s and 30s, the ubiquitous Rodgers & Hammerstein foxtrot in the 40s and 50s. But rock and roll had a hard time getting a foothold. For a while, rock and roll was everywhere except Broadway. Sure, there had been rock musicals since the 1960s, but until the mid-1990s, they were the exceptions, maybe because those who grew up with rock weren’t yet solidly in control of our culture. Finally now, theatre music and popular music have come together again. And that can only be a good thing for this uniquely American art form, no matter what the older generation may think.

One result of that is a whole new generation of musical theatre lovers, high school and college students who got hooked by Rent, Spring Awakening, Hedwig, Songs for a New World, Bat Boy, Next to Normal, bare, Edges, the 2009 revival of Hair, and other shows, as well as Disney’s High School Musical and its sequels. Not only has this millennial generation given us a whole new audience for musical theatre, but they’re writing new musicals, too, and that’s very exciting. People are always predicting the death of the musical theatre, but it’s never been more alive than it is right now. The possibilities are endless.

And Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is the proof.

______________________________________

Copyright 2012. Excerpt from Scott Miller’s upcoming, though untitled next book. All rights reserved. Miller is also the author of Strike Up the Band: A New History of Musical Theatre, Deconstructing Harold Hill, Rebels with Applause, Let the Sun Shine In: The Genius of HAIR From Assassins to West Side Story, and Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and Musicals.