I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked “what would happen if South Park, Sam Shepherd, Wikipedia, and Dog the Bounty Hunter played the School House Rock drinking game while listening to American Idiot?” Well, San Jose Stage has the answer and you can experience the bastard baby spawn from that scandalous night of Historical debauchery for yourself. His name is Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and I’d like to be one of the first to congratulate the Stage on their bloody new bundle of WTF.
The screaming new arrival is a rock musical at its core as well as a test of one’s ability to laugh at completely inappropriate things. From the opening syllable, the audience is shoved into a pit of quicksand and entrails where they’re then held hostage (in the good way) for 90 minutes, with no intermission. You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not, don’t expect to be eased into any of the unfiltered lampoonery. I consider myself fluent in such a style and still found myself dangerously close to being traumatized from the guilt associated with laughing at such reprehensible quips.
You’ll be happy to know it’s not all violence and political incorrectness. Interspersed between the rapid-fire, crass impudence of the book, there’s a surprising amount of factual presentation about one of the most polarizing presidents in U.S. History as well as several nods to the parallels to current and more recent politics. But, I have to reiterate, the humor is not for the puritan or even the remotely sensitive.
To say that this satirical hot mess crosses lines really isn’t accurate. Frankly, I don’t think the creators actually acknowledged the existence of lines and if there were lines, they were crossed so many times they more closely resemble a Jackson Pollack painting at this point. Perhaps, a more apropos description might be the brazen exclamation of “we don’t need no stinking lines” accented with the immediate execution via gunshot to the neck of anyone daring to suggest such a thing. It’s pretty inevitable I’d say that someone is going to walk out of this show. That being said, if you make it to the end, you may be pleased at how it wraps up the narrative and interpretive part of the History lesson with a surprising amount of heart and sincerity. Of course, the moment that heart and sincerity is recognized as such, it’s sentenced to die a painful death, pierced by an apache arrow and left to rot on the battlefield.
As for the musical itself, there tends to be a little more “forgiveness“ for notes in rock. I don’t think it’s as critical to like the notes being sung (as they are written or as they are interpreted by the actor) as much as it is to get the vibe across and to hear the lyrics. To the same degree the comedy of the lyrics sometimes upstages a great voice and we realize a bit after the fact that “hey, that was a really nice song.” We had some of both in BBAJ, a song or its performance that maybe underwhelmed a tad and some that really stood out as well-crafted and well-sung even if it was a bit of a delayed response. Overall this crazy, supped up Dukes of Hazard, indie-rock, theatrical vehicle worked for me, though a more musically trained observer certainly might see the material and/or some of the performances still a bit rough around the edges.
The talent really delivers on the comic front and they’re completely committed (and should be committed?) to the ridiculousness of it all. This wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining a show without a funny cast and this cast must live in MessedUpVille, because they’re frighteningly brilliant at the off-color content. A little TOO good if you know what I mean. A special shout out to Martin Van Buren who got some of the best lines and executed them flawlessly. I’d totally vote for him for president.
Props also have to go to the band who I enjoyed immensely and a solid, appreciative head-butt to the sound engineer who was working overtime at the back of the house making adjustments on the fly. Additionally, if some of the costumes go missing, it was probably me.
So, if you can embrace (or as I did fully enjoy) the often bizarre, terribly racist and uncomfortable humor, you’ll be rewarded with a high-energy cast and fist pumping rock riffs. And, you may even learn a little something. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson gets my vote with 4 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for this random, but engaging and oddly educational rock endeavor. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson plays through July 29th at the Stage in Downtown San Jose.
Dinner Theatre Pairing: One of my favorite places to eat dinner, especially as the weather gets warmer, is the Naglee Park Garage. Open Tues-Sat for Dinner only (starting at 5pm) and Sunday from 9am-1pm this is a real local gem serving up a small selection of contemporary and traditional American dishes, made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. The best way to enjoy the garage is definitely get there early so you have plenty of time to enjoy the neighborhood atmosphere while they make your meal to order. Order and pay for your food first, then find a seat on the patio or one of the 30 indoor bistro seats (all first come first serve). Parking is residential and can be a challenge, but there are plenty of bike racks and you’ll likely need a little distance to walk off your meal so again, leave time just in case. Be aware the Garage is dog-friendly and people often take them up on that so if you’re allergic or not a fan, this might present a challenge.
Alagash White (Belgian Wheat beer) on tap is a nice companion as you wait for your food as well as several mircobrews and craft beers. The Mac and cheese, Angus burger, and bacon brussels sprouts are mighty tasty, but honestly you really can’t go wrong with any of the menu items. Veggie options are scarce, but delicious and live music on Wednesdays during the summer often draws a big crowd. All in all the Garage offers reasonably priced, fantastic food in a cool casual atmosphere appealing as much to the family as to the hipster. At just about 12 blocks from the San Jose Stage it makes for a great pre-theatre option.