Old Hickory was one of Andrew Jackson's nicknames, but in Harms Way Theatre company's Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, currently at Mid-City Theatre, he seems more like Old Blow His Stack. The musical (book by Alex Timbers, music by Michael Friedman) follows a nonlinear storyline. Kevin Griffith's intriguing junk store set captures the mood. We are everywhere and nowhere, both in time and place, an ambiguity emphasized by Katie Gelfand's costumes.
The story covers some of the tempestuous seventh U.S. president's biography. Jackson (Lucas Harms) grew up in frontier Tennessee, and his parents died of cholera while he was a child.
Jackson espouses frontier resentment of the federal government, and at one point he says he hates "the Spanish, the British, the Washington aristocrats and the Indians." That's a lot of hate and Jackson seems to be bursting at the seams. Speaking of seams, there is much admiration for Jackson's tight jeans. He packs a pistol and hunting knife, but as macho as that is, there are many little bits of camp humor.
New Orleans honors Jackson for repelling a British invasion in 1815 with a small contingent of soldiers, pirates and free men of color. Also, ironically, a band of Choctaw Indians joined Jackson. As president, however, Jackson ruthlessly forced Native Americans from their lands in the east to reservations west of the Mississippi River in a deadly exodus known as the Trail of Tears.
The play deals with all these themes in swirling segues of song and dance. It's sort of Bertolt Brecht with heavy metal and disco instead of Kurt Weill. There's an excellent four-piece band on stage, under the musical direction of Natalie True.
A.J. Allegra directs the talented and energetic cast of 14. Anachronisms abound with calls for pizza, and when Jackson and his wife Rachel (Leslie Limberg) cut and scar each other, they sing a paean to Susan Sontag. Vulgar slang is tossed around with gusto, as when Jackson says, "I'm your F-in' president and we're into some shit."
Well, Old Hickory achieved many of his goals. Populism is what Jackson called his appeals to "the people," and there has been no turning back. "The Great American People" are now to be continually flattered and groveled to by everyone running for office.
Andrew Jackson is a musical cartoon, and it's messy but fun. — DALT WONK