FIRED UP: Andrew Jackson (center, Jonathan Rhys Williams) rallies the troops in 'Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson' at San Jose Stage Company.
‘It’s the early 19th century/ And we’re gonna take this country back/ For people like us.” With this battle cry begins Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a rock musical about populism, celebrity culture and the seventh president of the United States. The play, which opened Saturday at San Jose Stage Company, portrays Jackson as what, in many ways, he was—the “rock star” of his day, a maverick who took on the Indians, the Brits and the dandified elites in Washington. But here, Old Hickory wears really, really tight jeans. He has groupies. He asks if we want to see his “stimulus package” and promises to fill us with “popula-jism.” And he sings emo music.
Anachronism is the name of the game, providing most of the humor and drawing explicit connections between Jackson’s era and ours. Modern gadgets contrast with Thierry Chantrel’s rustic set. The ensemble cast, though dressed in vaguely period clothing, looks suspiciously like a gaggle of 21st-century hipsters. Modern vulgarisms (“There’s no place in democracy/ For your brand of aristocracy/ Take that shit back to Virginia/ Or Massachusetts, beyotch!”) crop up constantly.
If you can imagine Fall Out Boy or Dashboard Confessional belting out a high school history textbook, you’ll have some sense of Bloody Bloody‘s musical style. This mock-emo actually ends up being far better than its source material. Backed by a live band, the cast sings with in-your-face fervor, from the buoyant opener “Populism, Yea, Yea!” to the finale, a rocked-up version of “The Hunters of Kentucky,” a 19th-century tune written in honor of Jackson and used during his presidential campaigns.