When I mentioned to my colleague Chris Rawson that I must be the only person in the world to have seen three productions of the musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," there was no hesitation when he replied, "I'm sure you're right." First Broadway, then D.C. and now Moon. Robert Morris University students led by director Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre gave "BBAJ" its regional premiere Nov. 8-11, bringing the satiric, profane historical fiction to The Colonial Theatre at Massey Hall.
Applause to Ken Gargaro's RMU theater program for giving "BBAJ" it's regional introduction. Last year, he produced a provocative and underappreciated "Spring Awakening" that he also brought to the Cultural District with Pittsburgh Musical Theater. I'm all for the classics, but it's great to see a challenging show as part of our theater scene. It's not for every taste, but its relevant and quirky and provides a role that can translate into a star turn, as it did for Benjamin Walker on Broadway.
Even after three viewings, "BBAJ" still confounds for it's shift in tone, from goofy laughfest to deadly serious. The tale of the seventh president's rise from frontier orphan to bloodthirsty warrior to leader of the land is told with "SNL"-style humor, followed by a critical look at his hand in creating the Democratic party and also in destroying or displacing thousands of Native Americans.
The Tony-nominated book by Alex Timbers and emo/pop songs by Michael Friedman present a challenge for performers and audience, with no role more challenging than Old Hickory himself, who on paper exudes rock-star charisma, with his oft-mentioned tight pants and eye liner not optional.
Robert Morris senior Michael Sullivan (above) and a game cast gave the material a good college try, although on Thursday, actors were betrayed by hiccups in sound that would, for instance, drown out Sullivan in a group number or drop a phrase from Victoria Buchtan's strong turn as Rachel Jackson. Recent graduate Logan Williams, who had the title role in "The Who's Tommy" at RMU, seemed to be having a blast as the flamboyant John Quincy Adams, and Nina Danchenko was a hoot as the Storyteller.
The student-public audience mix on Thursday seemed to be a bit taken aback by the outrageous satire, but slowly began to get the joke, judging by the laughs that began to fill the small auditorium. I sat back and took in the adventurous spirit of everyone involved. I can't wait to see what Robert Morris takes on next.
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