Theater review: Musical 'Andrew Jackson' hits the bull’s-eye

Published: Friday, Oct. 19 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” Salt Lake Acting Company, through Nov. 4, with matinees, $24-$36, 801-363-7522 or saltlakeactingcompany.org

If only American History 101 were more like “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”

In the textbook theme, here’s a multiple-choice quiz. The reason Salt Lake Acting Company’s first show in its 43rd season succeeds is:

A. It’s the regional premiere of a dynamic piece of contemporary musical theater.

B. It uniquely identifies the country’s first native-born president as our first celebrity.

C. It totally rocks.

D. All of the above.

You’d only get a grade of 100 percent if your answer is D.

Never heard of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”? Let’s do a Cliff Notes summary.

Theatergoers should know up front that the production includes profane language. The F-word and other objectionable language content are used throughout, making it the equivalent of a movie's R rating.

Developed by New York City’s Les Freres Corbusier Company, a highly creative yet smart-aleck theater troupe, “Andrew Jackson” was a raging success when it opened at the Public Theater in 2009. But it fizzled despite a cult following when it transferred to Broadway months later.

Composer Michael Friedman and book writer Alex Timbers broke free of musical theater’s jailhouse conventions to write a hard-driving rock showcase on a controversial main character that reimagines “A.J.,” as he calls himself, as a contemporary rock star. The spotlight-loving president has a common-man contempt for Washington insiders, and the show demonstrates his populist rise to the White House.

The score of "Andrew Jackson" is written in the style of emo rock, with emo short for “emotional,” named for its emotionally charged and often confessional content. But don't quibble on the specific genre. Let’s just agree that, with superb leadership by music director David Evanoff and the three other onstage musicians, the music is accessible, impactful and wonderfully illustrates the show’s outlandish, inspired concept.

In the tour-de-force role of Jackson is University of Utah graduate J.C. Ernst, who SLAC brought in from his New York City home (where, appropriately enough for this show, he chases squirrels in Central Park, according to his bio). His performance is magnetic. Pulling his handheld mic from his holster when it doesn't contain his well-used single-shot revolver, Ernst has all the swagger of Jagger. His Jackson would never suffer through Joe Biden’s condescending smirks.

The show’s other Equity Union cast member, Annette Wright, plays a small role as schoolteacher-narrator. Whether she rolls on stage in a wheelchair or a furniture mover’s dolly, Wright is hilarious. Even her first costume is laugh-out-loud funny. Wright’s character significantly learns that “you can’t shoot history in the neck,” after she is shot in the neck.

“Andrew Jackson” also inaugurates SLAC's University Professional Theatre program. The balance of the cast is 10 students from the tri-county area — but, under SLAC executive producer Keven Myhre’s tight direction, you wouldn’t know they are university-enrolled.

Jessica Kennedy is especially strong as Jackson’s wife, Rachel. She’s nearly outdone by fellow students in their roles as “doily-wearing muffin tops”: Chase Ramsey as John Quincy Adams, Aaron Ross as Martin Van Buren, Austin Archer as James Monroe and Patrick W. Kintz as John C. Calhoun. In the role of Jackson’s son, Lyncoya, Connor Johnson also impresses.

“Andrew Jackson” transports the audience to what the script says is the Age of Jackson — which you'll note is light years away from “The Age of Aquarius.” SLAC’s staging hits the bull’s-eye.

Content advisory: Profane character-based language, sexual situation

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