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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bailiwick Chicago Theater's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a rock 'n' roll history lesson worth seeing



I must confess that I'm not much of a history buff. In fact, I don't even remember learning about Andrew Jackson, our seventh President of the United States, in school. So when I first heard about the rock musical, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, back in 2010 during its brief run on Broadway, it didn't make me want to rush to New York to see it. But the show's unique combination of rock 'n' roll and politics (both of which I do like) intrigued me enough to check out Bailiwick Chicago's current production - and I'm pleased to report that I had a great time.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson takes the life story of Jackson and turns it into a campy, gay dark comedy with many laugh-out-loud moments. I also have a feeling that director Scott Ferguson has made the show a bit more queer-friendly for its Chicago premiere as a few male characters dance to Scissor Sisters' "Let's Have a Kiki" at one point. The musical does become more serious by the end of its intermission-less 100 minutes, but for the most part, it's a raunchy, hilarious hoot that quickly flies by.

Ferguson has assembled a talented cast of fifteen, including Samantha Dubina as Jackson's wife Rachel, Tanner Smale as President John Quincy Adams, Patrick Rooney (who also plays guitar in the groovy onstage band), Judy Lea Steele (who almost steals the show whenever her storytelling character appears on a motorized scooter), and the amazing Matt Holzfeind, who commands the stage as Jackson from beginning to end with his charismatic channeling of two Morrisons - Glee's Matthew and The Doors' Jim (it is one of the best performances I've seen this year).

As for the music by Michael Friedman, I enjoyed most of his songs, but it's not a memorable score that you'll still be humming a few days later. Instead I predict that you will remember the outstanding cast, the amusing book by Alex Timbers, and the effective scenic design by Nick Sieben (which couldn't be more perfect in the historically hip former Masonic Hall theater space). So with our current Presidential election just around the corner, I highly recommend that you spend a fun evening with someone who has been there and done that - and has now returned in tight pants and eye shadow to sing about it.

Bailiwick Chicago's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs through November 10 at National Pastime Theater (941 W. Lawrence Ave). Tickets are available online at bailiwickchicago.com. And there will be a FREE performance on Election Night, Tuesday, November 6, at 9 pm (you must show proof that you voted).

Photos are by Michael Brosilow.

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