Was Andrew Jackson a great President?
Some historians have hailed the seventh President (1829-1837) as a pioneering populist who opened the White House to all citizens. Others have called him a flawed leader with a very disturbing record on blacks and Native Americans.
Though acknowledging Jackson as the "People's President," writer Alex Timbers and composer Michael Friedman still depicted the father of the Democratic Party as a scary imperialist in their rocking but reflective 2010 Off-Broadway -- and later Broadway -- musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson."
SpeakEasy Stage Company has captured the show's whimsy and liveliness as well as the complexities of its charismatic and conflicted subject.
Theatergoers may find this cautionary and colorful musical an unusual history lesson. Quite simply, Jackson becomes a dynamic rock star-in a tour de force performance by Gus Curry- taking control of the stage as completely as Jackson dominated his two terms as president.
Friedman's satirical and hard-hitting musical numbers enhance Timbers' remarkably thorough if unconventional narrative.
That narrative crisply takes Jackson from his simple Tennessee roots through his tumultuous two terms in the White House.
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" lives up to its name with ample time given to Jackson's victory at the Battle of New Orleans, successful opposition to the British and the Spanish and to his tough forced-relocation of tribes in what was known as the Indian Removal Act.
Director Paul Melone paces the scenes sharply and clearly so that the material never becomes confusing or intimidating.
With all of these historical riches coming together ingeniously in Timber and Friedman's collaboration, "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" still closed prematurely on Broadway. Were some potential theatergoers turned off by the uncompromisingly provocative title? Might some possible audience members have decided that a hard-driving rock musical about Andrew Jackson was off-the-wall?
Both the dynamite Broadway original and the high-powered SpeakEasy Hub premiere provide strong evidence that their perceptions were sadly presumptuous.
Demanding Boston theatergoers should hesitate no longer.
The SpeakEasy cast has equal parts energy and talent. Curry captures Jackson's early tentativeness about taking populist action in "I'm Not That Guy" and later resolves to be the leader in "I'm So That Guy."
Alessandra Vaganek brings great spirit to Rachel, especially as Andrew's great love questions whether he is as committed to her as to the American people.
Amy Jo Jackson makes "Ten Little Indians," a chilling take on Jackson's brutal mistreatment and so-called negotiations with Native Americans.
In SpeakEasy's strong multi-cultural cast, Brittany Walters, a black senior at The Boston Conservatory, sings robustly in a variety of ensemble roles.
Samil Battenfeld, an African American, Jamaica Plain fifth grader (who alternates with Brandon Barbosa during the run) has engaging spunk as Jackson's adopted Creek Indian orphan Lyncoya.
Whether theatergoers share Timbers' and Friedman's troubling view of Jackson or not, SpeakEasy's rousing premiere is bloody good theater.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, SpeakEasy Stage Company, Calderwood Pavilion,Boston Center for the Arts, through November 17. 617-931-8600 or bostontheaterscene.com.