ArtsATL > Theater > Review: Actor’s Express’ lively, irreverent rock musical “Andrew Jackson” is a bloody good time

Review: Actor’s Express’ lively, irreverent rock musical “Andrew Jackson” is a bloody good time

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Andrew Jackson's wife (Galen Crawley) embraces her husband (Maxim Gukhman). (Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus)

The set-up for Actor’s Express’ new show “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” running through February 17, includes a row of “tweet seats,” a back row in the audience where viewers are permitted to text and tweet during the performance. This may or may not tell you anything about the show itself, but it does seem like a noteworthy development. The rest of the world no longer has to wait on tenterhooks until intermission to read “omg i m having fun”; now you can receive that announcement in real time.

I didn’t sit in a tweet seat or ask anyone there what he or she might be texting, but I’m guessing their messages on opening night probably looked something like the example above. Whichever way you care to communicate it, you’ll likely end up wanting to let others know that “Jackson” is a lively, loud and slyly funny rock musical.

It tells the story of our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, whose legacy is still a matter of contention. Was he a great populist who helped broaden the ideas of equality and democracy? Or a genocidal maniac who can justifiably be called “the American Hitler” for his harsh treatment of Native Americans, including the relocation of the Cherokees from the Southeast to Oklahoma on the “Trail of Tears”?

Those familiar with the popular Web series Drunk History will understand the whimsical approach to telling history that’s used here. Jackson wears skinny jeans and answers calls from the Supreme Court on a cell phone. But the larger contours are accurate — the fight he’s having with the court really happened, and his brash populist attitudes were very real — and in the end such a treatment can be surprisingly revealing and even thought-provoking.

Jackson’s long-suffering, abandoned wife (Galen Crawley) sings a (mostly) touching ballad about how all she really wants in life is a happy home with her beloved husband, a garden, a picket fence . . . and plenty of slaves. It’s shockingly and humorously told, but no doubt this is actually the picture of privileged wedded domestic bliss that many women of the time dreamed about.

Rock music doesn’t usually sit comfortably in Broadway musicals, but the songs in “Jackson” are pretty good. Moreover, the show owes more to the theater of the absurd and “South Park” than to “Oklahoma!” or even “Hair.”

Maxim Gukhman as Jackson is a charming, charismatic star, with enough of a weird, tough edge to suggest Jackson’s darker sides, and the ensemble cast is frenetic and funny throughout, playing multiple parts as the story unfolds.

Some might find it all a bit too stompy, twangy and tweety. The effort to evoke a sort of relentlessly irreverent, rowdy, youthful rebelliousness can occasionally feel overbearing. And though the history that’s told is pretty engrossing, and wittily and idiosyncratically conveyed, I didn’t find the issues of populism that the story lingers on quite the subject of fascination that the writers seem to. It may have been more timely when it premiered toward the end of the George W. Bush years.

But I think most viewers will be mostly happy with “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.” And a development that’s likely to make them even happier — one I’ve seen more and more lately in Atlanta theaters — is that there’s a fully functioning bar built into designer Kat Conley’s in-the-round set, where audience members can get a drink before or after the show, with wait staff serving during the performance.

I’m usually miffed at the very thought of people pulling out their cell phones during a live performance. But let’s call it a deal, a temporary cessation of hostilities. As long as I can get a drink, it seems only fair to let those in the tweet seats text to their heart’s content.

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