Having just had a birthday, and with each subsequent one, I often wonder when I’ll cross the line from cheerful youth abandon to “get off my lawn!” crankiness. Well, it may have just happened, or quite possibly I have finally become tired of high-concept hipster larks, which sadly, much of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson absolutely reeks of. The comic emo rock musical, tracing the seventh president’s rocky reign from obscurity to displacing Native American tribes to expanding the U.S. populace and creating the Democratic Party, is historical revisionism for the late-term SNL era. And yet, despite a pedigree including director Alex Timbers (artistic director of famed company Les Freres Corbusier) and composer Michael Friedman (This Beautiful City), it rarely ever becomes much more than an overextended 12:48 a.m. skit you might see on SNL, except one in which the cast can curse to their hearts’ content and wink so ruthlessly at the audience you begin to wonder if the Public Theater will begin offering special compensation for eye strain.
The steroidal antics on display will no doubt please many (Ben Brantley sure had a whale of a time last year when its concert version played in this very venue), especially since this kind of coolly detached, exaggerated style has now supplanted droll, observant satire in much of what we see in below-14th-street parlance. (The Amoralists…I’m also talkin’ to you.) Handsomely staged, with an inviting red-velvet den by Donyale Werle that makes the Public’s Newman Theater even more intimate, Bloody Bloody squeaks out a good laugh every once in a while (I’ll even admit I giggled when a downtrodden Jackson picks himself back up to the tune of Cher’s “Song for the Lonely”), but for some reason, Timbers has paced the thing like a pack mule; you could knit sweaters through some of the lag time, and when the jokes are already of such a wobbly nature, it makes for quite a laborious one-act.
Of the sprawling cast, leading man Benjamin Walker, charismatically embodying the petulant, crooning title prez, and Emily Young (sometimes a dead ringer for saucy Sarah Silverman) come the closest to wringing out the piece’s inexorable coyness; others merely mug and wail. But the overall stench of self-satisfaction never leaves the air, and if not succumbing to such makes me an oldie, I’ll happily become Hal Holbrook.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is now playing at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street) in New York City and through June 27. Schedule: Tues – Fri at 8pm; Sat at 5pm & 9:30pm; Sun at 2pm & 7pm. Running time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, no intermission.