It doesn't take long for the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson to capture the spirit of rockers who fall under the categorization of "emo." It comes in the second song, I'm Not That Guy, in which the title character -- our seventh president re-imagined as tight pants-wearing rock star -- sings about how much he, and indeed life itself, is horrible..
So he takes those lemons, positive that he wants nothing more than to make our still young and expanding country stronger, and turns them into still pretty bitter lemonade. Too bad that comes at the cost of betraying some people he loves or calls friends, not to mention many tribes of Native Americans. As one character sings in the song Populism Yea Yea! about wiping out the Indians, Spanish and French occupying the Southern and Western reaches of this new world: "I'm pretty sure it's our land anyway."
The musical, which was an off-Broadway hit in 2009 and transferred to a short-lived Broadway run in 2010, is making its North Texas premiere at Dallas' Theatre Three, directed by Bruce R. Coleman. And, despite being one of the last pro theaters in the area you'd think of to mount this show, T3's cast comes pretty close to rocking it out; if not out of the stadium, then definitely out of the tiny rock club with filthy bathrooms.
A big part of that is the magnetism of T3's star, Cameron Cobb, who has the swagger and sex appeal of a rock star who puts the "man" in "Manifest Destiny." He works the in-the-round stage hard, singing until he almost loses his voice by show's end and sweating enough to fill a tour bus. As does the band of actor/musicians who double as historical figures, from Henry Clay to John Quincy Adams, and members of the band.
As the Bandleader, Austin Struckmeyer is the standout when it comes to rock vocals, but in general, the music direction with the ensemble needs work. It may be rock 'n' roll, but it's still in the idiom of musical theater, and you want there to be better harmony and fewer sour notes.
Still, it's a cleverly smart-alecky show, filled with wildly funny lines and puns ("that's laissez-unfair!") that uses the story of one our most controversial presidents -- was he a man of great vision, or a perpetuator of genocide -- to tell the story of a young nation that's still conquering and growing phase.
As presented here, and backed up in Cobb's performance, the man on the $20 bill doesn't have easy answers to either side of the question. The song Corrupt Bargain reminds of the song We Both Reached for the Gun from Chicago, in which moral ambiguity reigns and it's not clear just who's doing the puppeteering.
When it comes to American politics, especially in the current millennium, it seems, those kinds of line-blurring are becoming the sadly all-too-accepted norm. In the presidential Battle of the Bands, no one wins.
Except audiences who shell out some dead presidents for T3's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.