Long before HAMILTON became a Broadway phenomenon, BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON set a story of early American history to modern music. It’s rock score, absurdist humor, and several relevant messages make it a great fit for Xavier University’s burgeoning theatre program. While some of the gags in the book feel dated – a lot has happened to our country’s comedic sensibilities over the last ten years – the cautionary tale wrapped in this deceiving package remains increasingly relevant.
Director Stephen Skiles uses literally every inch of the studio black box theater to stage this in-your-face production. Seated on the wooden bleachers, even with my back against the wall, I was physically uncomfortable for the ninety minute performance; that aesthetic fits with the tone of the show, though. This isn’t a sit-back-and-relax kind of musical. Others sat at picnic tables, with cast members climbing and dancing on top, while mock-murdering some of the crowd. It’s an inventive staging, creative in its overall approach, but just another example of Skiles proficiency. It’s tight, well paced, and professionally directed. Xavier’s Theatre program could be Cincinnati’s best kept artistic secret.
Stacking the cast with charismatic students, including a strong, engaging “Andrew Jackson” himself (Josh Caradang), Skiles also knows exactly how to maximize the impact of his production while allowing those studying in his department to learn and grow and stretch. This ensemble works together seamlessly, with no visible weak links, to tell this story.
The show is funny, though the Sunday afternoon matinée crowd was less than enthusiastic; but it did not deter the energy of the cast. Kevin Seamancik, a local sound design graduate and now professional, does an exceptional job balancing the band with the vocalists and executed his sound design flawlessly (a rarity in theatre these days.) Scot Buzza directs the music with his usual proficiency, while Joe Beumer’s set and lighting design works well despite the cramped quarters. Costume designer Maggie Dick makes the cast look great while staying consistent with the overall vibe of the production.
The thing that Xavier does so well, scary-well actually, is that regardless of the subject matter the audience walks away thinking. Xavier Theatre tells great stories. Xavier Theatre inspires. And Xavier keeps pushing their artistic limits; it continues to pay off.
Next up: BURIED CHILD, a chance for Xavier students to work with theatre professionals Ed Stern, Bruce Cromer, and Regina Pugh opening February 15th. Click here for more information.