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Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson

New musical filters history through contemporary viewpoints

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Diana Nollen  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:36 pm   ::  

When Leslie Charipar and friends saw "Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson" on Broadway in 2010, they loved it so much they went again the next day and took more of their group along for the ride. "We're all theater people and when you're surprised by something, it's kind of a little theater miracle," she says. "This show surprised me from start to finish. I couldn't predict what was gonna happen. I had no idea it was going to be so smart and so fresh and so brave. It was just really, really, really cool." Charipar's not expecting everyone to have that same reaction when the new Tony-nominated musical hits the Theatre Cedar Rapids stage from Sept. 28 to Oct. 10, 2o12. She's prepared for a love/hate relationship with this modern telling of one of the nation's most volatile presidents, in office from 1829 to 1837. "It's a creative and loose telling of Andrew Jackson's life and presidency," says Charipar, 45, who is directing TCR's mainstage production. "It's strangely close to the truth, but it's filtered through a contemporary viewpoint and sort of treats history in an irreverent way." She describes the show as "edgy, rock 'n' roll, hip, smart, brazen, ballsy, different and unique." "It's sexy. The tagline on Broadway is: 'History just got all sexypants,' "she says with a laugh. The details "There's no intermission, so you can't escape," she says. "I was really moved by the end of the piece when I saw it in New York, but as we work on it here, it's even more moving, especially because it's an election year and things are so crazy right now. We often don't consider the candidates or the president as a human being, and ultimately, what we end the play with, is this is a guy who is confronted with decisions and he made those decisions whether you like 'em or not." "He''s not a nice guy," says Tim Arnold, 36, of Marion, who plays the title role. "He's cocky, he's obnoxious, he's rude, he's racist, he's all these things that I don't consider myself to be. It's a lot of fun to explore something so different." The seventh president, whose face is emblazoned on the $20 bill, wrestled with big business and politicians in his time. He spoke with his gun and had a penchant for brawls. He was bloody, participating in 13 duels to defend his wife's honor, as well as his own, living out his life with a bullet lodged in his chest. He owned slaves, fought American Indians, pushed them onto reservations and became a national hero when he defeated the British at New Orleans during the War of 1812. His toughness garnered him the nickname "Old Hickory." "(The play) never quite makes a judgment on Andrew Jackson, although a very specific point of view is coming across," Charipar says. "It's a very adult show. I think the playwright was attempting to use the vernacular of now in the voice of someone who was in the 1800s. It has a lot of strong language, but a lot of conversation about what he did to the Indians, done in a 'South Park' way. "You have to make it to the end of the show. It has a real irreverence and an absolute political incorrectness that can be construed as offensive," she says. "It really asks the audience to participate and think. It isn't just a 'sit there and let it wash over you' kind of deal." In the meantime, the play "November" -- an irreverent look at modern politics -- is being staged in the Grandon Studio on the theater's lower level. "Both deal with government and politics," Charipar says. "One is set in the 1830s, the other in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I kinda love them because both are really irreverent, on the verge of satire, at a time when we're so inundated with political stuff. It's nice to just kind of laugh at it, especially in Iowa, which is inexplicably a swing state, so we're getting pounded here. "I kinda love that we have two shows on stage that are basically lampooning politics. We get to make fun of it for a little bit and get a little relief from the seriousness of what is going on in our lives right now." The simple frontier lawyer born in the Carolina backwoods in 1767 was a complex man until his death in 1845 at The Hermitage, his plantation near Nashville. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, and was a Tennessee Supreme Court judge. At the urging of the people, he ran for president and was elected twice. "He was a land-grabber," Charipar says. "He's one of the reasons we have much of the land that we have now. And in so doing, he was primarily responsible for putting Native Americans on reservations and massacring tribes. He was a violent, fighting president who acquired a great deal of our land, mostly in the South." It all plays out to a rock beat that doesn't move the plot along, but comments on the action, says musical director Janelle Lauer, 42, of Cedar Rapids. "The music is very short and sweet," she says. "It's high energy, it's funny, it's irreverent. There's one song toward the end of the show that's so poignant, so beautiful and speaks to you and the environment and how when we as people want something, we just take it, without even thinking about what the repercussions are." But much of the rest of the music is infused with humor. "If you listen to the words, it's so funny, it's so in your face," Lauer says. "I love it -- it's great. Rarely have you had a show that's so impassioned."

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