Ever since Richard Nixon lost an election by sweating on TV, we have held this truth to be self-evident: America prefers a sexier president. It gets a rock star in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, in its area premiere by SpeakEasy Stage Company (at the Calderwood Pavilion through November 17). Here Injun-zapping, Spaniard-slapping Old Hickory represents not only our manifest but also our hormonal destiny. Poured into tight jeans and wielding a hand mic, he's at the center of a timely, clever, if somewhat gonzo entertainment that portrays a perennially adolescent nation heaving with blood and power lust, its charismatic seventh commander-in-chief a combination of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Conrad Birdie. Or as the publicity for the 2009 Off Broadway hit and 2010 Broadway fizzle would have it: "History just got all sexy pants."
The brainchild of librettist (and artistic director of New York's Les Freres Corbusier) Alex Timbers and composer-lyricist Michael Friedman (of the documentary troupe the Civilians), Bloody Bloody boasts a plaintive, pounding emo-rock score that proves the right vehicle for its mix of anachronism-peppered snarkiness and earnest feeling. At once pointedly satirical and historically instructive, with one foot on the contemporary campaign trail and the other on the Trail of Tears, this entertaining show follows its subject from the populist-forging Tennessee frontier to the image-consolidating Battle of New Orleans to a controversial "people's presidency" without ever robbing him of his youthful fervor. Jackson was 61 when he won the White House in 1828, but here he's more Rolling Stone than roughhewn sexagenarian.
Paul Melone's SpeakEasy staging conveys all the winking, testosterone-touched vigor of the material, with Gus Curry a full-blooded if petulant Jackson who morphs from a maverick to an almost monarchical identification with the electorate. And from the opening strains of "Populism, Yea, Yea!" to a twanging coda of "Hunters of Kentucky" (Jackson's campaign song), the production is musically held together by bandleader Nicholas James Connell. The conductor/music director also provides persuasive vocals on the haunting "Second Nature," a meditation on human aggression that seems to stretch from the 19th-century westward push to our 21st-century pummeling of the planet. Bloody Bloody is smart-alecky, but it's also smart.
BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON :: Roberts Studio Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St, Boston :: Through November 17 :: $25 :: 617.426.5000 or speakeasystage.com
, Theater, arts features