Before Alexander Hamilton took to the stage and rapped his way into Broadway box office history, Andrew Jackson rocked out to “Populism, Yea, Yea!” and lamented life in the White House by singing about “Public Life.”
The one-act rock musical “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” was not the smash hit “Hamilton: An American Musical” has been. It closed after just 120 performances on Broadway in late 2010 but has been revived recently in regional theaters.
Mad Horse Theatre Company last week in South Portland kicked off its 32nd season with a rousing production of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” that proves the political past can and does repeat itself. The ensemble cast gives insightful performances, swirling around Ryan Walker’s charismatic Jackson like ribbons being wrapped around and tightened on a maypole.
The show, written and first performed during President George W. Bush’s second term, now seems terribly prescient. It’s as if Alex Timbers, who wrote the book, and Michael Friedman, who wrote the music, had a crystal ball that showed them the tumultuous political climate of 2017.
Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, was a controversial political outsider who founded the Democratic Party, claimed to represent ordinary people expanding the nation west from the original 13 colonies and forced Native Americans in the East to land west of the Mississippi River on the march history remembers as “The Trail of Tears.”
“Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” portrays Jackson as the political rock star of his day. Walker gives a dynamic, energetic and devastating performance that reveals a man torn between duty and family, the limelight and a private life. The actor ages from a young soldier to an old man with subtlety and grace. He is a young performer worth paying attention to.
This rest of the cast is a true ensemble with nearly all of them performing multiple roles. Standouts include Amanda Eaton, Adam Ferguson, Michael Shawn Lynch and Christine Louise Marshall, the theater company’s artistic director.
All give fine performances but Mark Rubin infuses each of his characters, including James Monroe and Keokuk, chief of the Sauk tribe, with a depth of character that puts the actor in a class by himself. Rubin’s portrayals in this show bear absolutely no resemblance to his outstanding performance earlier this year as the prosecutor in Mad Horse’s production of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.” That is the mark of a consummate actor.
As for the band, drummer Brendan Daly, bassist Shannon Oliver and music director Mike O’Neal on guitar are loud and boisterous but the musicians give the show a grungy, garage band feel that fits in perfectly with Jackson’s brand of populism.
Director Stacey Koloski pushes the cast to move at a frenetic pace that rarely lets up. The score is rowdy and raucous and so is her cast. Mad Horse’s tiny stage can barely hold the action but that makes “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” the kind of in-your-face theater few other companies in Maine are bold enough to stage.
“Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” is entertaining, engaging and insightful. It also could be a warning to pay attention to the past lest it be repeated in our present.
“Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” will be performed through Oct. 15 at Mad Horse Theatre Company, 24 Mosher St., South Portland. For information, call 747-4148 or visit madhorse.com.