Theater roundup: Andrew Jackson gets ‘Bloody,’ while Fresno City explores a ‘Silent Sky’

Weekend openings also include “And Then There Were None” at Fresno State; and “Twelfth Night” at Fresno Pacific

Before there was “Hamilton,” there was “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” (Or, as it could have been alternatively titled, “Old Hickory: The Musical.”) President Jackson might not have been one of the Founding Fathers, but the creators of “Bloody” knew back in 2008, long before “Hamilton” conquered the world, that mashing together American history and rock music could mean a big creative payoff. That’s why I’m leading off my roundup of a very busy theater weekend with a much-awaited new production at Visalia’s College of the Sequoias.

Illness as Metaphor
Let there be blood: Cheyenne Breshears as Rachel Jackson and Michael Seitz as Andrew Jackson. Photo / College of the Sequoias

College of the Sequoias

First Fresno City College and director Charles Erven broke new ground this season with a premiere production of the Broadway musical “Green Day’s American Idiot.” Now it’s time for Chris Mangels and the top-notch theater department at COS to offer another local hard-edged musical premiere.

“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” with a book by Alex Timbers and music/lyrics by Michael Friedman, offers a fiery view of the Tennessee native, who rocked the establishment and was known for his embrace of populism:

“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” follows America’s seventh president from his early days as a child on the wild frontier to his controversial reign in the White House. With the country divided into rich and poor (and with continued skirmishes with the Native Americans upsetting pieces of the new world), Jackson begins his steady climb from military strategist to populist rabble-rouser to President of the United States.

Along the way, he meets his wife, Rachel, takes on the Founding Fathers – and rocks like no political figure has ever rocked before with a raucous blend of outrageous comedy, anarchic theatricality, and an infectious musical score. This wildly entertaining 90-minute show asks the question, “Is wanting to have a beer with someone reason enough to elect him president? What if he’s really, really cool?”

Mangels is known for directing edgy fare, but this show pushes even more boundaries, he tells me: “It’s a pretty bold show, even for us.” He hopes to draw theater-goers from the Fresno area, knowing that the subject matter and style might not please some of his local regulars.

COS student Tamara Quipse, who plays several roles in the production, told the Visalia Times-Delta that she extensively researched Jackson’s life before production rehearsals started. She admires how the production puts a modern spin on American history, even though it’s not always 100% accurate. From the Times-Delta story:

Old Hickory does get credit for leading a rebellion against the establishment, but the show mostly displays Jackson’s flaws — the slaves, the genocidal side, his poor performance as a husband, the ego-mania and his weird enjoyment of ritual bloodletting.

“The show does take some artistic liberty with the history, but overall it captures his life pretty accurately,” she said.

Details: Opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, College of the Sequoias Theatre. Runs through Nov. 18. Tickets are $18 general, $16 seniors, $14 students.


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Astronomer: Jessica Knotts plays Henrietta Swan in “Silent Sky.” Photo / Fresno City College

Fresno City College

Henrietta Swan discovered something pretty big in terms of astronomy: a pattern known as Period-Luminosity Relationship, which allowed astronomers in the early 20th Century to measure the distances between stars. In other words, she helped map the universe. But in a time when women scientists weren’t given much attention, she didn’t achieve any measure of fame until after her death.

Swan’s story is told in Lauren M. Gunderson’s acclaimed poetic play “Silent Sky,” a blend of science, history, family ties, and “fragile love.” The play was a finalist for the 2013 Jane Chambers Playwriting Award given by the Women in Theatre Program of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.

Janine Christl directs a cast that includes Jessica Knotts as Henrietta Swan. Productions in the smaller Studio Theatre tend to sell out quickly, so this is a ticket you’ll likely want to buy in advance.

Details: Opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, Fresno City College Studio Theatre. Runs through Nov. 18. Tickets are $14 general, $12 students and seniors.


agatha

Fresno State

You’ve heard her belt it out as a pregnant girlfriend in “Green Day’s American Idiot,” looked at the thoughtful period costumes she designed in “Native Son” and now have a chance to experience her direction in Agatha Christie’s “And Then Were None.” The common denominator in all three productions is Jana Price, and to say she’s been busy this semester is putting it mildly.

The Experimental Theatre Company is Fresno State’s student-run group. “It should be a fun show of jump scares and mystery,” Price tells me.

Details: Opens 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, Lab School 101, Fresno State. Runs 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, and Saturday, Nov. 11; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12. Tickets are $5.


Fresno Pacific University

Director Julia Reimer is getting into the holiday spirit with a distinctive production of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy “Twelfth Night — in a Festive Production Celebrating Christmastide.”

Details: Opens 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, in North Hall 123 (Seminary Chapel) on the main FPU campus, 1717 S. Chestnut Ave., Fresno. Runs through Nov. 18. Tickets are $12 general, $10 seniors and non-FPU students, and $5 for members of the FPU community.


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Author: Donald Munro

Covering the arts in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond.

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