A Bloody Good' Andrew Jackson at Wilbury Group
If you read the mission statement of the Wilbury Group, you’ll have a greater understanding and appreciation for the theatrical performances they are bringing to Rhode Island.
“The Wilbury Group is an ever-evolving collaboration of artists committed to creating the highest quality professional theatre.”
They brought us the incredible “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Exit the King.” They have come up short on a couple of productions, but they are not afraid to tackle the unusual and the difficult.
Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers’ 2012 Outer Critics’ Circle Award winner, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” was also nominated for two Tony Awards. It is controversial, politically incorrect and totally outrageous….and it is great.
The Wilbury Group, under the direction of Josh Short and David Tessier, is staging the Rhode Island premiere of the rock musical in the spacious confines of the old Butcher Block Mill Building at 25 Eagle St., on the second floor of the huge mill complex.
While it was quite hot on press night, with perspiration drenching the bodies of many of the performers, most of the heat came from the talented band and the pulsating music they played, backing up more than a dozen actors, led by the incredible performance of Joe Short as Andrew Jackson.
The second floor space is set with tables and chairs and a small stage that serves as a starting point for actors and musicians to enter and bring the play right into the audience.
The 90-minute, one-act musical rewrites history, in this case the rise and fall of President Andrew Jackson, from his humble frontier childhood to his presidency. We witness the creation and expansion of the Populist movement, which led to the formation of the Democratic Party, told with a lot of poetic license.
Characters such as Martin Van Buren (Kelly Seigh), Henry Clay (Dave Rabinow), John Quincy Adams (Stuart Wilson), John C. Calhoun (Brien Lang), and James (Monroe Andrew Stigler) are portrayed broadly – very broadly. There is a hysterical running gag involving a narrator (Clare Blackmer) who enlists the ire of Jackson, who eventually wrests the narration from her.
The fast-paced action moves the politically incorrect and sometimes purposely inaccurate story along. The exaggerated references to history, such as the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the Battle of New Orleans, whiz by at bullet speed. The Indians, Spanish, English and Washington bigwigs are all the enemies of Jackson, who claims to be the “Voice of the People,” as he continuously asks for their opinions on matters of national policies…and then does it his way. Native Americans don’t make out very well in this interpretation of history, and Jackson doesn’t come across as the man I studied in American history. All this makes for outrageous satire filled with continuous laughter.
The cast and musicians are first rate, working well in ensemble. I must single out three of them. Joe Short, an equity actor, is terrific as Jackson. He is in constant motion, filled with emotion, and in good voice. Kelly Seigh as Martin Van Buren is outrageously funny. And Alyssa Gorgone as Jackson’s wife gives a poignant performance as the wife of the bigamist who must choose between her and being the voice of the people.
The Wilbury Group is a group that continues to push the envelope, proving an alternative theatre experience. This production is not for children or people who do not like profanity in their plays. For those of us who like to be both challenged and entertained, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” should be on the summer schedule. The play closes July 28, so get your tickets now. Check them out online at www.thewilburygroup.com. Tickets are $15 to $25.