Jackson on (and then off) Broadway

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog.  During the long interlude I had the chance to attend the musical, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater in New York City.  I’m not a Broadway regular and so perhaps I was dazzled by the high-level production and performance package that characterize these shows, but I must say that I was impressed with the sharp satire woven into the show.  AJ rarely finds himself in the mass entertainment world these days; this show did a nice job of making him seem at least relevant, if not exactly admirable.  Since it was canceled in early January 2011, I hope that I was not among the last to see it!

The historical accuracy of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was, perhaps not surprisingly, not a priority.  The story follows AJ’s life in a 19th century setting using modern-day costuming, cultural references, and music.  I quickly dismissed any idea that I was going to catalog the various historical missteps–probably to the great relief of my friends in attendance–and instead focus on the ways in which the production attempted to make Jackson’s legacy relevant to modern sensibilities. The “rock star” image that emerged from the play seemed to make sense to me. AJ’s celebrity in his own time perplexed his contemporaries, who often found him shallow and without the usual oratory and intellectual deftness of other politicians.  Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson turns the tables on this image of AJ’s life, as John Quincy Adams is portrayed as a mindless fop and Henry Clay as a crazed elitist.  In the scene depicting AJ testifying before a Congressional committee about his personal life and his marriage to Rachel (if this had actually happened, I imagine that the reality would be much bloodier than the fictional version), Calhoun, Clay, and Adams frantically try to break Jackson, but AJ holds his cool demeanor and rules the day.  Once elected into office, AJ finds being the people’s president challenging as “rock star” doesn’t translate into “effective administrator” as well as he had envisioned.

There’s much more to say about this production, but I’ll withhold commentary in the hopes that someone will revive this play.  You can check out the remnant website for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson here. And, if you have a few million dollars laying around, please consider reviving it so that more Americans can see how their rock star president from the early 19th century fared.  As the chorus from the opening number goes, “Populism, Yeah Yeah!”

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About Sean Adams

I'm the Chair of the history department at the University of Florida. At UF, I teach courses on the Early American Republic and the History of American Capitalism. I've published books and articles on the history of the coal trade, and recently completed a book that examines the origins of America's fossil fuel dependency in the 19th century.
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