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Let's make 'Jackson' a Broadway smash

Robert Houk • Feb 25, 2018 at 8:30 AM

In 1814 we took a little trip

Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip

We took a little bacon and we took a little beans

And we caught the bloody British in a town in New Orleans

The Battle of New Orleans

Before arriving in Johnson City in 1987, most of what I knew about Andrew Jackson (thanks to singer Johnny Horton) was that he whipped the "bloody British” at the Battle of New Orleans. I also recall reading of a dispute between my native North Carolina and South Carolina over the exact location of his birthplace, Waxhalls. We Tarheels were used to our cousins in South Carolina boasting of things that are not true, so I never gave it any mind.

My true education of Jackson came when I moved to Northeast Tennessee. He walked this very soil. He began his law and political careers in this region. It was here where he served as judge. And it was probably here where he fought his first duel.

Some historians believe Jackson participated in as many as 100 duels, but not always as a combatant. Sometimes, he was a witness or a “second,” there to make sure the contest was honorable and fair.

But there was no doubt Jackson was a confirmed duelist. He carried bullets in his chest that came from two of his foes, one of whom died from Jackson’s returned shot.

A friend was recently discussing Jackson’s dueling ways when I got what I thought was a million dollar idea. If someone can make a Broadway hit out of dueling failure like Alexander Hamilton, why not do the same for Old Hickory, whose tall, thin frame often gave him an edge in such contests. Had he been a portly fellow, Jackson might not lived as long as he did.

And like the musical “Hamilton,” the cast of my production would be diverse. Just think — a Native American portraying Andrew Jackson. What would the ghosts haunting Jackson’s Nashville plantation, The Hermitage, think about that?

A colleague of mine, Hannah Swayze, informed me last week that my idea for a Andrew Jackson musical is not all that original. She told me to do a search for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” a rock musical that has already appeared on Broadway. I refuse to do so. I simply think my idea is better.

A number of books on Jackson have been released in recent years, including the Pulitizer Prize-winning “American Lion” by Chattanooga native Jon Meacham and “Jacksonland” by National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” host Steve Inskeep.

That’s why I think now is the time for a big production Jackson musical. I see lavish costumes, bold sets and songs that embrace both the best of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Jackson seemed always to be embroiled in controversy, and not all of it was of his own making. The 1828 election, which is considered by many historians to be one of the dirtiest campaigns in American history, saw most of the mudslinging directed at Jackson. Supporters of John Quincy Adams accused Jackson of murder, gambling and treason.

But when they called his wife a bigamist, that was a slight Jackson would never forgive. Technically, there was some legal question regarding Jackson’s marriage to Rachel. He and Rachel were living as husband and wife for almost two years before they found out that her first husband had never actually completed the divorce process.

Such was often the nature of marriage and divorce on the frontier.

A divorce was later obtained and the Jacksons renewed their vows, but that didn’t stop Jackson’s political enemies from calling Rachel an adulteress. Again, this was a smear that made Jackson go looking for his dueling pistols.

Jackson won the race for the White House, but was left grief-stricken when Rachel died just two weeks before he took office. Old Hickory never forgave those who had attacked the reputation of his beloved Rachel.

My Jackson musical, with the unoriginal working title, “Jackson,” would have it all — violence, politics and ethnic cleansing with a dash of romance. Contact my co-producers at the agency of Bialystock and Bloom if you are interested in investing.

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