How important is charisma in the selection of American leaders? Who decided who got to claim what for whose manifest destiny? What is populism, and why would anyone trust the people with it?
And while we're asking, what is "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" doing on Broadway, anyway?
My answer to the last question is easy. It's doing plenty, just not in the usual ways. The little show, written and directed by Alex Timbers and a smash at the Public Theater last spring, may not satisfy conventional expectations or keep from dwindling a bit at the end. But it is 90 thoroughly audacious, politically savvy, politically incorrect minutes that toggle between a 19th century American history lesson and up-to-the-minute 21st century sensibilities.
Is it sophomoric? You bet, but with the bratty, collegiate foolishness of Monty Python. Is it irreverent and plain goofy about fundamental beliefs and institutions? Sure, but not more than "Urinetown." Are the sex and violence too anarchic, the rock too raucous and the Goth too Rocky Horror to last beyond the passing tastes of the young? If so, why are we still talking about Rocky Horror?
We are seated in a theater so red it looks like the inside of a rotting, romantic old candy box, decorated with dead animals and festooned with teeny festive lights the color of dried blood. The cluttered stage is a kind of Wild West tavern with a fearless band to play Michael Friedman's songs. The style is a satire of emo-rock - that is, emotional hard-core rock - which began as a reaction against the violence of punk. This means people are very sensitive about their feelings, even when slaughtering residents, especially Native Americans.
Benjamin Walker, in a breakout role, plays our seventh president as both a baby rock-star who loves his tight jeans and a sociopath who adores his big gun. His swooning fans hail the Tennessee maverick, a commoner, as an "agent of change" and the "coolest president ever." The Washington elite is unmanly. Cher and Susan Sontag are throwaway jokes. At first, Jackson sings, "I'm not 'that guy' who could be a hero and run the country." Of course, soon he is declaring, "I am so 'that guy.' " This will not be "that show" for all audiences. Then again, as the show says, populism isn't for everybody.
"Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson": Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St., Manhattan, 212-239-6200, bloodyandrewjackson.com. Tickets: $51.50-$131.50.