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American History Re-Mixed At The Public Theater

Friday, April 02, 2010

American history is getting re-mixed and amped to 11 at The Public Theater. The new musical, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, takes a School House Rocks approach to the 7th president of the United States.

Unlike the guy your history teacher rambled on about, this Andrew Jackson wears tight black jeans, sings pitifully sad songs and, like, just wants to be understood.

"America is in its infancy when George Washington is president. Then, by the time Jackson rolls around, America is in its adolescence," explains Benjamin Walker, the actor who plays the moody, charasmatic president. "[The country's] expanding rapidly, it's growing, it's fighting against its parents, it's sexually active, it's arrogant, it's breaking the rules."

For Walker, that inner-turmoil lends itself to the show's emo sound, and the sub-plot of self-mutilation.

"It’s that adolescent angsty time in America, and that plays directly into the theme of emo rock: the rebellious nature, the over-passionate sensation of the world's pressures crushing down upon you," says Walker. "It was fun to see the parallels between that idea and Jackson's actual life."

Bands like Dashboard Confessionals, Weezer and Fall Out Boy inspired the score.  But writer/director Alex Timbers says he doesn't see this as a "rock musical in the traditional sense."

The show addresses some of the darkest moments under Jackson's leadership — such as the deadly Indian Removal Act of 1830 — with irreverence.

"I think the show owes more to the kind of humor you see on the Daily Show or South Park than the rock musicals, like Spring Awakening or Hair," says Timbers. "It's political theater, and it's funny political theater."

The Obie-award winning Timbers knows dark humor.  He's part of the team that created the holiday show, A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant and the Halloween spectacular Hell House, with its own critical take on Christian morality. 

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson grew out of the The PublicLab, a collaboration between The Public and LAByrinth Theater Company. The Public's had a hand in incubating musicals that eventually found their way to Broadway, Passing Strange and the revival of Hair among them.

No word yet on where Bloody Bloody might be heading. The campaign runs at The Public Theater until May 9.

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