In which Charles Isherwood blames the victims

My friend Kirk Kolbo sent me the Wall Street Journal’s squib on Braodway fall flops last week. I was surprised to find that I had seen three of the five shows on the list. More precisely, I saw two-and-a-half of the shows, having walked out of the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson halfway through (and having seen The Scottsboro Boys in its pre-Broadway incarnation at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis).
I walked out of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson because I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever seen performed on a stage, bar none, including high school theatrical productions. I walked out halfway through because it gave me just enough time to catch the interesting revival of David Mamet’s A Life in the Theater that was playing next door (also on the WSJ list of fall flops).
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is an extraordinarily unfunny, Rocky Horror Picture Show kind of vamp on the Age of Jackson, with this difference: the music in the Rocky Horror Picture Show surpasses that in Andrew Jackson by a country mile. In any event, I think even the late Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the liberal author of The Age of Jackson, would have been unamused by Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
Kirk and I went to the Sunday matinee of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson when we were in town for the Claremont Institute’s Henry Salvatori Award dinner honoring Mark Helprin. The afternoon we saw the show it played to a packed house whose audience laughed ostentatiously at the show’s steady stream of incredibly lame jests. I was almost as annoyed by the audience as by the show.
Word of mouth must nevertheless have killed the show. It certainly got favorable reviews, including a mostly positive notice from Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal. In this past Sunday’s New York Times, Charles Isherwood laments the untimely demise of The Scottsboro Boys and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Isherwood finds the Broadway audience at fault for failing to support these shows, but I think he is engaging in the critical equivalent of blaming the victims.


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