In Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, the seventh president pours himself into skinny jeans, slicks his hair back Fonzie-style and packs a microphone in his low-slung holster. He does beer bongs before signing legislation and orders pizza to the Oval Office. And sometimes, he just sips at a juice box and whines about how much his life sucks.
Historical revisionism hits head-spinning heights in Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman's swashbuckling musical, presented at Portland Playhouse. Bloody Bloody is a vaudeville romp through Jackson's life: tragic childhood, battles against the British and Spanish, populist campaign for the presidency and brutal relocation of Native Americans. Set to an emo-rock soundtrack on a Wild West-inspired stage, it imagines Jackson and his fans as hormonally charged and fickle teenagers, driven by blustery impetuosity, clumsy idealism and sophomoric humor.
This production, directed by Brian Weaver, gets off to a high-octane start. Jackson (Logan Benedict) swaggers onstage like an emo Elvis, dressed in a nipple-exposing white henley and black eyeliner. "I'm wearing some tight, tight jeans and tonight we're delving into some serious, serious shit," he croons to the audience, lip curled. The ensemble, in sexed-up frontier garb, jab fists into the air as they belt the opening song, "Populism, yea, yea!" It's surprising, silly and very funny.
But despite the best efforts of an exuberant cast, Bloody Bloody can't quite maintain its early energy. The scattershot structure is the primary problem—it sometimes jolts from self-conscious slapstick to jarring didacticism. That's unfortunate, because alongside some lowest-common-denominator jokes, there are some hilarious lines—"that's just laissez unfair," quips a mutton-chopped Martin Van Buren.
The show is a mishmash of historical and modern references, but the best moments forgo period appropriateness—standout spots include a battle scene of impeccably choreographed dueling duos, a spooky version of "Ten Little Indians" and Melissa Murray's deadpan turn as Jackson's wife, Rachel. Bloody Bloody has plenty of oomph—it just needs a bit more focus.
SEE IT: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson plays at Portland Playhouse, 602 NE Prescott St., 488-5822. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Saturdays-Sundays. Through Nov. 11. $15-$38.50.