Raleigh Little Theatre announced yesterday that it has canceled a scheduled May production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, replacing it with a run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
The company reports making the decision on the basis of conversations with the region’s Native American community over the fall.
The musical satire based on the life of the seventh American president won awards for best musical and book during a run at the Public Theatre before transferring to Broadway in 2010/11.
But the controversial work, which recasts American history as a scathing satire in the vein of South Park or The Book of Mormon, has seen increasing criticism over its depiction of Jackson’s treatment of Native Americans while in office.
Jackson advocated for and carried out the Indian Removal Act, which led to the forced relocation of tens of thousands of Native Americans in the 1830s along the Trail of Tears.
After Native Americans criticized the original off-Broadway run, public protests accompanied a June 2014 production in Minneapolis. After that, students at Stanford University cancelled a production in November following on-campus protests.
The musical was selected for the current Raleigh Little Theatre season prior to the arrival of new artistic director Patrick Torres. Shortly after starting last fall, Torres initiated a series of conversations on the work with the regional Native American community.
“I felt it was really important to rally support around it, and get Native American voices involved in the production,” Torres told the INDY on Friday. He said that through those conversations, he found no way to continue the production with Native American support.
“No matter how the play is executed, the Native American community feels that it comes at the expense of historical facts and atrocities that [Jackson] instigated against their ancestors and family. There was no accurate and clear way to engage them in the process; as an institution, we would be excluding them from the production.”
“No matter how great the production was, what [the conversations] ultimately said was there was not a way to do it that is not potentially hurtful to them,” Torres said.
Torres and company president Charles Phaneuf said that Raleigh Little Theatre experienced no direct pressure to cancel the play. Both denied that the move constitutes censorship, external or self-imposed.
“In our community, where there’s such a vibrant Native American community, part of our mission is to be a welcoming place that enriches and engages the community,” Torres said. “So it’s not really an issue of censorship. It’s more an idea of living out our mission.”
The satire depicts Jackson as a populist rock star and includes lyrics like “We’re gonna take this country back for people like us.” New York Times critic Ben Brantley called the work “a rowdy political carnival” whose 2010 run felt “unconditionally (and alarmingly) of the moment.”
Brantley characterized Bloody‘s Jackson as “a sort of moonshine shindig equivalent of a Tea Party candidate.” Professor Jeffrey Matthews, who directed a 2014 production at Washington University in St. Louis, noted, “By the end of the musical, you’re meant to ask yourself, ‘Was Jackson actually the American Hitler?’”
But in an open letter published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, playwright Rhiana Yazzie of New Native Theater wrote, “The truth is that Andrew Jackson was not a rockstar and his campaign against tribal people … is not a farcical backdrop to some emotive, brooding celebrity. Can you imagine a show wherein Hitler was portrayed as a justified, sexy rockstar?”