In what continues a very youthful streak for the SpeakEasy stage, pulls together a large, young cast into an oddly satirical rock musical on the life and times of our notorious 7th president Andrew Jackson. The show transforms the history and cutthroat politics of a nation just barely holding onto its nationhood into a sort of rock & roll biopic about a president who, at least here, made being president cool…and a little bit evil. Andrew Jackson is of course famous for founding the modern Democratic party (just not as we know it today), fighting for democracy and popular representation in Washington…and the mass relocation of Native Americans. The Trail of Tears is perhaps his greatest legacy.
The show is very much in the vein of the A.R.T’s recent Futurity in that it tries pretty hard to be cool and re-position the musical inside the genre of popular music. It’s a wild piece of performance, demonstrating both the theatrics of over-the-top satire and rock opera. So much that for the first few scenes I worried about what I had gotten myself into, but the wit of its book (Alex Timbers), its rapid pace and energy, and the charisma exuded Gus Curry as Old Hickory eventually won me over. The anachronistic jokes, historical caricatures, and gayification of James Monroe’s cabinet are hilarious, and the cast pulls off a pretty damn good slapstick fight scene.
Satirically, the show is rather nebulous and I’m not sure what slice of contemporary politics it’s supposed to engage with, although there’s clearly a parallel between the populist rock stardom of Jackson and our soon to be re-inaugurated president–at least back when he entered his current term. Or perhaps the parallel is with Romney’s affected populism. In the end, the show is certainly a presidential story like no other that, in this time of political uncertainty and antagonism, offers up a cracked-out look at a young nation still pushing violently onto a frontier far from Washington.