Out of the Box Theatre Company, now in its third season, says it is “dedicated to bringing contemporary musicals to the Santa Barbara stage ... entertaining, edgy and socially relevant shows that fall outside of the common expectations of musical theater.”
The company, led by founder and artistic director Samantha Eve, has certainly hit upon a niche in Santa Barbara, and is filling it admirably. The performers, music, direction and sets are consistently top-notch, but it is the choice of material that is the essential ingredient in this scintillating mix, as they continue to produce shows that truly fall outside of what audiences expect, and delightfully so. It says something when the most “traditional” musical a company has presented is Hair.
Take their current offering: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, by Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers, premiered on Broadway in 2010. The tale of our seventh president’s rise to power from humble beginnings and his unorthodox approach to politics, set to an emo pop/punk musical score, is not what most people think of when they consider an evening at the theater. And yet, like Spring Awakening did last year, with its historical period plot set to contemporary music, it works.
Steven Stone stars as the charismatic and ruthless president who was responsible for driving the Indians west, doubling the size of our nation, and creating the Democratic Party, convinced that populism was the way to go. With a powerful singing voice, fluid physicality and an aptitude for comic timing, Stone is able to contrast Jackson’s swaggering bravado with occasional glimpses of the vulnerability he tries hard not to show.
Eve directs as well as ably playing Jackson’s wife, Rachel, and taking part in the ensemble. The cast works well together but there are a few standouts. Terry Li brings great energy and verve to the various parts she plays, as does Marc Nicolas, Connor Gould and David Goren. Anne Guynne adds to the surreal atmosphere as a Storyteller in a power wheelchair, commenting on the proceedings.
Mike Chen fronts the band on guitar and lead vocals, also stepping in with occasional narration. His style is low-key and natural, further blurring the lines between real life and theater. The band puts out a big sound, in danger of drowning out solo vocals from time to time, but in general the blend works, thanks to the musical direction of Ben Saunders. The vocalists, directed by Heidi Jacobs, are strong, and the songs are catchy.
Unlike last year’s Evil Dead: The Musical, which utilized gallons of fake blood, going so far as to designate a “splatter zone” in the audience, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is more metaphorically bloody than literally. As a depiction of an adolescent nation with blood already on its hands, it is apt that the show’s music and humor reflect adolescence as well, but does so in a satisfyingly mature manner.
This weekend’s performances of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson are at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Center Stage Theater upstairs at Paseo Nuevo in downtown Santa Barbara. Additional performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 23, and again at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24.
Click here to purchase tickets online, or call the Center Stage Theater box office at 805.963.0408.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.