For a show with a title as silly as Spamilton, the 2017 off-Broadway hit currently playing at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse until this December 5th, this spoof-tastic offering is a surprisingly smart one.
While there were the occasional lowest-common-denominator pot and fart jokes you might expect from a show so irreverently named, far more of its run time was devoted to more intelligent cracks at not only Hamilton but at the broad scope of Broadway, in the vein of creator Gerard Allessandrini’s other Forbidden Broadway productions.
The central character here is not Alexander Hamilton but Hamilton composer Lin Manuel Miranda, whose quest not to “let Broadway rot” (sung to the tune of “not gonna miss my shot”), becomes the prism through which we are taken through some of Allessandrini’s “wildest musical comedy dreams.”
It’s certainly a fever dream that ensues as the script races through visual and musical references to everything from contemporary hits like Wicked and Book of Mormon to classics like Guys and Dolls and West Side Story to works as comparatively niche as Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins.
Speaking of Sondheim, the recently deceased composer also appears as a character in the number “Ben Franklin, Sondheim, and Lin Manuel,” when Miranda calls on his musical theatre forefather and noted real-life inspiration for advice.
I noticed a few sharp gasps the first time Sondheim was mentioned in what I assume was the first performance of Spamilton since his passing. Yet a moment that easily could have veered into the cringe actually came off as more of an endearing tribute, poking fun at Sondheim’s tendency towards wordiness while also hailing his “humongous brain” and god-like lyrical prowess.
But Allessandrini’s own wittiness and wordiness was very much on display as well, as characters spat rhymes as remarkable as “thank Lynn” with “Franklin” and enacted scenes from mashups as amusingly maniacal as “The Lion King and I” and “Hello Dolly In The Chocolate Factory.”
It’s all deceptively hard to do well, and even harder to do well while conveying a spirit of celebrating theatre even in the act of mocking it. Yet somehow, Spamilton manages, conveying enough respect for its source material and for Broaway itself that Miranda himself reportedly “laughed his ass off” at the show rather than going on the defensive.
The heart behind all the humor was also evident when the characters raising their glasses to Broadway as “Something that will always be around, no matter what it goes through” struck a surprisingly tender chord in light of the past year’s pandemic.
And some of the things that Spamilton’s comedy takes aim at are parts of the industry that deserve the barbs, like the Disneyfication of Broadway, and the fact that Hollywood names are likely to displace Broadway stars in “The Film When It Happens.”
Similarly, another number pointed out the queer coding of Hamilton’s villainous King George while emphasizing the fact that the rest of Hamilton and many of its contemporaries are as compulsorily heterosexual as they are racially diverse. (And this despite the fact that there’s actually more historical evidence for an affair between the real life Alexander Hamilton and fellow soldier John Laurens than there is for the one portrayed between Hamilton and his sister in law Angelica Schuyler—this part wasn’t in the show, but look it up, people!)
Cast standouts include TJ Newton, who nails everything about Miranda’s endearingly eager and sincere persona. It also amuses me to no end to see in his bio that he previously played Usnavi in a production of In the Heights, one of the countless characters he here plays in Allesandrini’s skewering.
Also outstanding was the energetic and vocally gifted Marissa Hecker. The only woman in the cast, Hecker was doing the work of several, not only playing all three Schuyler sisters with the help of a few puppet friends but adeptly embodying a plethora of other iconic Broadway divas and characters.
Incredibly effective costume design by Dustin Cross led to several laughs when immediately recognizable characters first appeared onstage— some sight gags involving little orphan Annie and Liza Minelli made a particular impact.
Sharp choreography by Gerry McIntyre also kept Spamilton visually stimulating throughout, and the end result was all so engaging that I didn’t even notice til late in the show that the only musical accompaniment provided was that of a singular piano.
At a crisp 80 minutes, Spamilton doesn’t overstay its welcome either, with a few instances where it continued past what I thought could’ve been an ending point feeling more like reprieves than encumbrances.
One of my few complaints, though, is that the fast pace of many of Spamilton’s numbers led me to miss quite a few of its lyrics, which is rather ironic considering that the number “What Did You Miss” makes light of just that aspect of the original Hamilton.
Aside from that, though, it’s also worth noting that much of this show is likely to fly over the head of someone who doesn’t have a working knowledge of the musical theatre canon even if they have seen Hamilton alone, though they’d likely still be able to find some entertainment in the talented cast, tuneful songs, and high-speed hijinks. But if you’re a Broadway buff who doesn’t take yourself or your theatre too seriously, Spamilton will probably be right up your alley.
Ilana Jael earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in Writing and Psychology from Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College. She also served as co-founder of the student theatre troupe “Theatre in the Raw.” She has been dabbling in both playwriting and acting since high school. A few favorite roles include Rebel in Columbinus (Bob Carter’s Actor’s Rep), The Fearful One in The Cave (G-Star School of The Arts), and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie (Theatre In The Raw). Her one-act plays Goodbye, Karma’s A Bitch, Certainly Not About Him, and Open Heart have also been previously performed at Actor’s Rep and/or at Florida Atlantic University. More recently, Ilana appeared in and created the original musical ZeeZou’s Stardust Extravaganza with Area Stage’s Miami Queer Theatre Collective. Her short plays have been produced virtually by New City Players, Theatre Lab, and Femuscripts. She is also a current company member of New City Players, and you can check out her theatre blog at ilanaintheatreland.com!