Written by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” provides the audience with a history lesson about the country's seventh president.
Of course, this history lesson tends to fade into the background as the rock 'n' roll pumps through the audience and the brooding, yet charismatic Jackson romps about the stage.
The Maryland Ensemble Theatre in Frederick is set to unleash this Wild West rock opera Oct. 18 to Nov. 11.
Julie Herber is directing, but says bringing the show to the MET was a group effort.
“We're an ensemble company so we try to make all of our decisions together,” Herber says. “So what we usually do is, before each play selection, we go through a lot of musicals and plays and we read them, read them as a group and talk about what our audience would want, what we'd like to challenge ourselves usually we include a musical in the mix. Everyone kind of agreed this would be a great show and it would be a great match for us. “
For Clay Comer, getting the chance to work with Herber again was reason enough, but getting to play Jackson really added the cherry to the sundae.
“Julie is one of my favorite directors. One of the reasons I really wanted to do the show was because I knew she was directing it,” Comer says. “I've done a couple other projects with her and they always end up being better than you expect them to be. She always throws in a certain unpredictability to define the creative process you have this idea in your head of what it's going to be like, but by the time we actually arrive at the finished product it's always different, but better than I thought it was going to be before.”
The Tony-nominated show follows the life of Jackson, from youth to the White House through good times and all the bad.
“The challenging thing with the show is that it was created really in the format of a rock concert,” Herber says. “So the way it was written and constructed there are not a lot of smooth transitions in the storyline, it just kinda throws Andrew Jackson in your face and you just kind of go on this ride of watching him take his journey from upbringing in the hills of Tennessee to the Oval Office.”
One of the interesting things about the show is being able to compare the politics in that era to the political scene we have today. Both Comer and Herber see parallels between Jackson and President Obama.
“[The show] sort of has that 'Saturday Night Live' feel to it, plus time couldn't be more right to do this show in the political climate we're in right now with everything that is going on with the election,” Herber says. “It's a great opportunity for the audiences to sit back and really laugh at the silliness of it, but in the silliness you hear things that Jackson says that could be coming out of Obama's mouth. The way Jackson's followers rallied around him, they want so much from him and they expect so much from him and how when he gets that and he finds out it's not as easy as it looks or they start to turn on him so everyone could say that Obama feels that way about now. It makes you think, which is kind of cool. It's one of the great things about theater.”
“You can really draw parallels between this character and basically every presidency since or before,” Comer added. “A lot of the themes they try to illustrate are pretty common in history, like they've been seen in more than one president. What it really does is try to bring him down to the human level the president is also just a regular guy like you or me.
“You definitely can draw parallels between him and Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. You can also do the same thing with Bush and Kerry or Clinton.”
“Andrew Jackson” was written as more of a comedy, but with a story to tell. This story, however, is not a history lesson for younger audiences. Herber says the theater is trying to make sure parents understand this show has not been edited, so it will have some R-rated language. Of course, that kind of fits the theme.
“[Timbers] said what he had in mind was kind of a 'South Park'-y type, almost like a 'Saturday Night Live' skit comedy, so a lot of it is very dry, very direct,” Comer says. “Some of it's very dark humor, but the way they use it to illustrate their points and the message the show tries to deliver, it serves as a pretty good catalyst for all that.”
The songs in the show tend to comment on the action more than drive the story, but Herber doesn't think that's necessarily where musical theater is headed.
“Musical theater sort of ebbs and flows,” Herber says. “There's been such a resurgence of stories, so it's kind of hard to find an original story that sticks with people. I don't know if that's artists letting the audiences persuade them or if it's more of the producers pushing that drive so that a nice, small, humble story doesn't really have a chance sometimes.”
Without a doubt, though, the MET definitely will have a wild and bloody Andrew Jackson waiting for audiences.