It’s a bloody shame. There is such potential in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Unfortunately, the Fighting Chance Productions presentation suffers from so many sounds issues, it very quickly bleeds out.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a surprisingly funny satirical look at the seventh president of the United States. It is all chronicled here: from Jackson’s early orphan childhood, through his ruthlessness on the battlefield and treatment of the American Indians, to his rise as the first “populist” president.
No History Television documentary though, Alex Friedman (music & lyrics) and Alex Timbers (book) brilliantly blend fact and fiction to make Jackson an emo Rockstar, complete with skintight jeans, and not a little eye make-up. It is inside this anachronistic wrapper where Bloody Bloody becomes a dizzying, and often hilarious ride.
As satires go though, this one is not for the faint-of-heart. With lines like “don’t get me started on the goddam Indians” uttered more than once through this show’s 90 minutes, Bloody Bloody delights in its political incorrectness.
And even while some of it may be historically accurate, it has just as much to say about our current political climate as it does about the politics of the 1700s. Sure, it may cause our hackles to stand up and take notice, but it is within its irreverence where Bloody Bloody excels. Like the best satire, humour replaces musket as the weapon of choice.
It is a shame then much of this production’s bite is lost, largely due to issues with the sound. Dropped microphones, incessant popping and feedback, all combine with music so overpowering at times it rendered many of the songs unintelligible. For a musical, that is a major problem.
Despite a show let down by its poor sound though, there were, thankfully, a few bright lights.
As its titular character, Daniel Berube has a nice enough voice (when it can be heard), but where he really shows his stuff is in his ability to embody AJ’s swagger and in his comedic timing. Berube believes in his character’s mission. As a result, we are happy to go on the journey with him.
In fact, with a couple of exceptions, the entire cast is at its best when they aren’t fighting against the music and sound.
Martha Ansfield-Scrase nails the role of Jackson’s wife, and Louis Desfosses is delightfully deadpan as Black Fox. The entire cast revels in the absurdity of their historical figures, including CJ Zizzri as John Quincy Adams, and Karliana DeWolff as Martin Van Buren.
Not all is doom-and-gloom on the music front. Annastasia Brown escapes pretty much unscathed from the sound issues as she accompanies herself (many in the cast also play instruments) in a devastating “Ten Little Indians”. Ansfield-Scrase does a terrific job in “The Great Compromise”. But then these are two of the quieter numbers, not overpowered by the overly aggressive two-piece band led by musical director Thomas King.
Nikolay Kuchin and Sarah Sako provide the perfect backdrop for this show, with a combination of old-time political rally stage and flourishes of a modern rock and roll spectacle. Michael K. Hewitt’s lighting design, plus Kimberley Blais and Nazanin Shoja’s costumes, match this duality with nice results.
There is a gem of a show hiding somewhere behind this production’s seemingly insurmountable sound problems. Unfortunately, it is impossible to recommend what could have been.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson by Michael Friedman (music and lyrics), Alex Timbers (book). A Fighting Chance Productions presentation. On stage at Performance Works on Granville Island (1218 Cartwright St, Vancouver) until November 11. Visit https://fightingchanceproductions.ca for tickets and information.