It’s like a dream that might happen to a high school student who nodded off during United States history class. The story of Andrew Jackson, complete with all the particulars of his life and administration — Populism, the Battle of New Orleans, the Indian Removal Act, and so on — but with Jackson portrayed as an emo rock star and his life rendered tragicomic through a series of punkish pop songs and sophomoric off-color jokes. On the face of it, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson has to be one of the most unexpected premises for a show ever to emerge from New York’s Off-Broadway theater scene. But as it turns out, it is also among the most successful and most popular theater properties of the last several years.
Nominated for two Tony Awards in 2011, including Best Book of a Musical, the show has gone on to become one of American regional theater’s hottest titles, and now, through the auspices of the Indy Award–winning Out of the Box Theatre Company, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson will get its Santa Barbara premiere beginning on Thursday, February 14, at Center Stage Theater.
Recently I sat down with Samantha Eve, the young actor/director who returned to town from New York and the NYU Tisch School just a few years ago to fulfill her dream of producing edgy contemporary theater for young audiences in her hometown. She told me about why she chose this show and about what those brave enough to attend what promises to be the season’s wildest night in the theater can expect.
What appealed to you about Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson? It’s current in a way that’s definitely for grown-ups. The sensibility it comes closest to is probably South Park. The playwrights are kind of making a statement by being wild and raunchy in this show that’s also about a historical figure, the seventh president.
Does the show make a hero of Andrew Jackson? How does he stack up? There’s a difference between wanting to have a beer and hang out with someone and wanting that person to be the president. With Andrew Jackson, you’ve got to wonder, is he really someone who’s got your back? There are moments when he recalls Bush, or Clinton, but there are also times when you’re like, “Oh my god, Obama!” So he’s hard to pin down, this Jackson.
I’ve heard the show can get pretty raunchy — is that really the case? Let me put it this way — if you thought that Avenue Q was offensive, this show will knock you out. Even I was shocked at the beginning by some of the jokes. But rather than close off, I tried to think about what was making me uncomfortable, and that’s when the show really began to click for me because that’s what it’s designed to do, to make you think about your own reactions. It’s definitely an R-rated show, but it’s not just about the shock value. It starts out totally irreverent, but from there it becomes something else.
How have you adjusted to this show as a director? I have taken a different approach because it’s not a conventional musical. I’ve had to work with the actors not to play the joke, which in this show would end up leaving the audience out.
What can you say about your cast? There are 14 people in the cast, and a lot of them are new to us. Anne Guynn will be the narrator, a kind of kooky librarian character who slips up and says really inappropriate things every once in a while, and Steven Stone will be Andrew Jackson. I’m playing his wife, Rachel. There’s a lot of wall breaking in this show. For Anne’s role as the storyteller, she’s in an electric wheelchair, and she zips around the stage. For the tone of it, I told her to “think Betty White.”
The music is clearly very important in this show. How do you feel about it song-wise? The soundtrack is what sold me on the show in the first place. These are solid, catchy songs that I would listen to on the radio as regular music. The whole night has a driving rock beat. We are working to blur the line between a rock concert and a theater-style show. Ted Dolas has designed an amazing stage on the stage for us as part of the set so that we can have this “show within the show” feeling.
How should the audience prepare for this experience? Well, it’s a “come as you are” kind of thing. I told the actors to let their tattoos show and keep their piercings in. But it’s also very Brechtian; the songs comment on what’s happening. The writers who put this together really know their theater.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo) from Thursday, February 14, through Sunday, February 24. For a full schedule of performance times and to reserve tickets, call (805) 963-0408 or visit outoftheboxtheatre.org.