REVIEW: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

There was blood indeed, and it was unmistakably about Andrew Jackson.

In this musical, Jackson was really developed as a character, showing just how nuanced he was as a president and as a person. Through glimpses of his personal history, we see how his past would shape his beliefs and his behaviors. The songs and scenes summarized his life and his decisions in a way that no documentary or textbook could ever do. Full of rock and unsuspected one-liners, it definitely kept the audience engaged, and the constant laughter, heavy hushed silences, and standing ovation at the end proved that.

One of my favorite songs was “Ten Little Indians.” The female soloist and ensemble were fantastically chilling, to say the least, and its grim reality resonated deeply and intensely. “The Corrupt Bargain” was also a personal favorite.  As a nice contrast to “Ten Little Indians”, this silly, upbeat number was the epitome of satire, exaggerating how politicians were mere puppets that could not be taken seriously. I thought this was brilliantly executed and while that song could have ran on the verge of ridiculous and cringe-worthy, the directorial choice in choreography made this an entertaining little history lesson with a larger societal commentary behind it that still rings true in modern politics.

The talented cast was absolutely amazing. The pacing was perfect, their chemistry with each other made me forget they were acting, and their personas and voices filled the room. Jake Smith brought the power into the entire Power Center as Andrew Jackson. The grief, the rage, the anguish, the passion for America were all so evident in his energetic performance as our great yet pained president. Garrett Forrestal provided comedic relief from this harrowing journey through history as the Storyteller who refuses to be silenced. As he shrewdly said in his resurrection at the end, “You can’t shoot history in the neck.” Maddison Rotner’s rendition of “The Great Compromise” beautifully captured the suffering of Rachel Jackson. Finally, the penultimate number, “Second Nature”, performed by Josh Strobl (Black Fox) was a stunning summary of what Jackson’s legacy would be, and Strobl’s soulful singing brought as much justice to the sorrows of the past as possible.

I was a huge fan of the rock and roll energy, even though it was nicely balanced throughout by the sensitive emotional scenes. The edgy attitude modernized this otherwise archaic story. I also really liked the backdrop and the vibe it set for the stage, as well as all the other props, including fabrics dictating all the different chapters of his life and the table that continued to stand despite losing a leg to Smith’s fiercely-flaring temper. The music was everything American rock, and the occasional breaking of the fourth wall between the four-member band and the cast was a nice change of pace as well. Particularly commendable was Erez Levin’s ability to rock out on the guitar while also channeling his inner fool as the laughable Martin Van Buren. Some directorial choices and parts of the musical were questionable, but overall, this production was really nicely performed and enjoyable to watch.

In the end, Andrew Jackson was a human being who wanted what he thought was best for the American people and the nation. His accomplishments remain extraordinary and controversial. Will there always be a debate around his presidency? Of course. And this musical does not serve as a commentary about what side you should take nor does it try to influence your opinion about him. Rather, it simply provides a look at the life of a complicated, flawed man with a great, tarnished legacy through comedy and rock and roll to help us understand American history and this complicated president on a whole new level.

If you didn’t attend on opening night, I highly recommend going to the Power Center to see MUSKET’s excellent production on November 18 at 8pm and November 19 at 2pm as they bring history alive onstage.

REVIEW: LGBTQ monologues

 

By the time I arrived the lights were low and the event was about to begin, so I didn’t have time to sample the refreshments artfully arranged at the back of the beautiful Pendleton room in the Student Union.  My friend and I took our seats, pocketing the stickers we had gotten outside when signing in and prepared for a night of moving stories and personal accounts from members of the LGBTQ community here on campus.

The event had been arranged and sponsored through a collaboration between the student org LGBT Michigan and the university’s spectrum center kicking off Umich’s events for national coming out week.  By the time the first speaker came up to give their monologue, the room was completely packed.  Scanning the rows of crowded chairs it became a difficult game to try to pick out any empty seats as latecomers trickled in and slowly filled the room to capacity.  To maintain the privacy of the community members and students who so bravely chose to share their individual stories, I don’t want to recount the specific of any one story, but I appreciated the diversity and range of individuals represented in the monologues.  While it seems obvious that no two individuals would have similar experiences, I still found myself amazed at the amount of diversity of individuals and monologues that we heard packed into one night.  The crowd was delightfully receptive, laughing at the right moments, staying quiet when the mood was somber, and offering a perfectly respectful environment that everyone could feel safe in, both for the speakers and the other audience members.

I appreciated greatly that there was also time reserved at the end of the event for open mic time, inviting audience members with their own story to share to come up to the front and have a turn on the mic.  I was surprised at how well spoken everyone was, reading everything from a personal poem relating to the topic to a moving life story.  It was the perfect way to round out the night, and even the open mic speakers all delivered their monologues with a level of polish that was not expected or needed, but highly appreciated.  I think this event was the perfect place for those who might feel isolated or alone on campus to hear the stories of others that they might resonate with, or bring communities closer together.  I hope that this event becomes a yearly series and sincerely thank those organizing it for their dedication and effort.

PREVIEW: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Everyone nowadays knows the life of Alexander Hamilton, thanks to the critically-acclaimed musical Hamilton. But what about the life of infamous and controversial president Andrew Jackson? Sure, he forced thousands of Native Americans on the Trail of Tears, and as a result, he has recently been taken off the face of the 20 dollar bill, but he had his moments of glory and he definitely left his mark on American history. Often called the worst “great” president, maybe there is more to the life of the founder of the Democratic Party than his legacy. In this comedic historical rock musical, reexamine the facts as America’s seventh president is reinvented on stage with this production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

Textbooks can only do so much. Watch history come alive onstage at the Power Center on November 17 and 18 at 8pm and November 19 at 2pm.

Tickets are available at Michigan Union Ticket Office for $7 or can be bought online at https://www.ummusket.org/

REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Michigan Theatre.

2016, freshman year: I, fresh-faced and a virgin to the world of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, emerged from Michigan Theatre as a slightly less virginal, still very impressionable, but a bit more cultured freshman. One year ago, I had the expectation that I was going to see a film with a great story line and amazing musical numbers.

If watching a calm, visually pleasant movie in an idle theatre is your kind of night, maybe a kind of film that’s musically show-stopping and rendered so beautifully that it’ll likely make you shed a tear or two – then I hear Once is a pretty good pick.

Because going to Rocky Horror is much less about seeing a magnificent film then it is going to experience a magnificent movement – a cult classic in all its chaotic vibrancy. This was immediately evident even in the line-up outside of Michigan Theatre as show time approached, with countless people floating by in a variety of costumes: pink wigs, fishnet tights, gold spandex.

2017, I’ve matured; I’m seasoned, having taken The Rocky Oath and done The Time-Warp before.

Introducing the show.

This year, I went into Rocky Horror not to watch a movie. Instead, I went for the callbacks, the sing-alongs, the endless amount cheering through the night. Perhaps it’s unusual within the realm of theatre-going, but audience interaction with the film is a significant part of the experience. With a repertoire of callbacks timed in sync with the movie script, (someone memorably shouting “Hey, what do you like to eat for breakfast?” just as an on-screen character replied “Come,” for example), each time the experience is new, different depending on the audience itself.

There are more corporal traditions, however, such as standing up and dancing to The Time Warp, snapping rubber gloves as Frank N. Furter does in the laboratory, yelling “Asshole” and “Slut” every time Brad and Janet are uttered. The clever, sometimes absurd traditions are my absolute favourite part of Rocky Horror, bringing a local culture into the theatre.

The lips.

With a shadow cast this year, another dimension was added to the film. A cast interpreted the plot playing on screen, acting out the script along with the movie. Sometimes the attention shifted off-screen entirely, the crowd cheering as the cast did something particularly funny or racy – even more so than what was happening on film. Something like this bridges the gap between film and audience even more. And unlike a lot of successful movies, Rocky Horror isn’t held in a pristine prestige; it’s steeped in and shaped by the layperson.

A generally good time, and an interesting cultural phenomenon, The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Michigan Theatre isn’t something to be missed. It only gets better year after year of attending, and I’m looking forward to the next Halloween weekend!

REVIEW: Cabaret

“Leave your troubles outside.  So… life is disappointing?  Forget it!  We have no troubles here!  Here life is beautiful…”  And that’s just what the show of Cabaret was.  The second the Emcee (Trish Fountain) walked onstage, the audience was captivated.  Captivated by the orchestra, captivated by the talented Kit Kat Club boys and girls, and captivated by the hauntingly beautiful storyline.

Cabaret, done by the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, is a musical that captures a time in Berlin when Nazis were coming into power.  The story revolves around American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Chris Grimm) who travels to Germany to find inspiration for his novel.  That’s where he meets “mysterious and fascinating” cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Laura Dysarczyk) from England.  Along the way, we meet lovable characters such as Fraulein Schneider (Jessica Ryder) and Herr Schultz (Edmond Reynolds).

The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre did this show justice.  So many emotions were felt throughout.  Love for newly formed relationships, uncomfortableness for moments that left the audience in silence, and pain for the decline of characters and political situations.  Moments left the audience with their mouths wide open, shocked.  And at the end, the Emcee reminds them of the troubles that they have left behind… Is it because the troubles have actually disappeared?  Or is it because they realized that their troubles are so small compared to the one’s of the characters’ onstage?  Just something to think about while leaving the theatre, not knowing what emotions to feel.

This sold out show was performed beautifully.  Unfortunately it is over now, but I highly recommend seeing more shows done by the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.  Information and tickets can be found at: http://www.a2ct.org/.

PREVIEW: Cabaret

The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre is bringing the classic show of Cabaret to the stage!  If you’ve never seen this show before, I would highly recommend it!  And I haven’t even seen the performance yet!  But the story itself is so beautifully heartbreaking.  I had the honor of assistant directing it at a different theatre last year, so I am super interested in seeing how they transform the story through different eyes.

I won’t spoil much of the story right now, but as the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre posted in their website, “Set against the crumbling decadence of the [Kit Kat Club], with darkly witty, bawdy, and sometimes scathing songs, Cabaret is a reminder of what the winds of political change, particularly when ignored, can bring.”  Like I said, you have to see this show at least once in your lifetime!  So might as well make it now!  And I suggest bringing some tissues 🙂

Cabaret runs at the Arthur Miller Theatre, October 26-29.  The Thursday show is sold out, but Friday through Sunday still have tickets!  Tickets are $14-16.  Buy them online now at http://www.a2ct.org/tickets/buytickets.

Photo Credit: found on their website at http://www.a2ct.org/.