Required Viewing for all Miranda Die-Hards!
BY SANDY STAGGS
SPAMILTON: An American Parody is an audacious send-up of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creative process and Hamilton fever…and the Broadway musicals affected by the success of the box office phenomenon.
Hamilton mania is still going strong in the Upstate a year after the record-breaking historical musical first graced the Peace Center stage in Greenville. Die-hard acolytes of Lin-Manuel Miranda can now spend this holiday season with Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, King George and Liza Minnelli (Yes, Liza with a Z!) in Spamilton, a smart and raucous spoof of all-things Hamilton…and all things Broadway at the Gunter Theatre.
The brainchild of Gerard Alessandrini, the comic mastermind behind the long-running Off-Broadway Forbidden Broaday series of musical parodies with some 25 editions wordwide since 1982, SPAMILTON sears with tightknit, fast jokes in the firing line,puns, double-entendres, sightgags, and spot-on impersonations.
The success of any impersonation is likeness, and SPAMILTON sports most impressive bodydoubles for both Miranda (T.J. Newton), Leslie Odom Jr. (Datus Puryear), and Daveed Diggs (Jared Alexander) in the story of Hamilton within the story of SPAMILTON, replete with comedic conveyances of the artistic process in a clever Weird Al Yankovic/Monty Python take on Hamilton songs with new twisted lyrics and titles such as the opening numbers “Alexander Hamilton” “Aaron Burr, Sir” usurped with “Lin-Manuel as Hamilton” and “Aaron Burr, Sir, Nervous-er.”
Performed by a versatile cast of six talented shape-shifters (and a rambunctious man on the keys in Matthew Hougland, SPAMILTON is framed as a “what if?” fantasy premise (used with Spamalot) that the Obamas launched a new romantic era in the White House with their publicly-hailed adoration of Hamilton, much like the Kennedys’ fascination and embracement of the musiclal Camelot and the romanticized notion of the Cameloy mythology.
And just ike Miranda’s bold colorblind casting in the ground-breaking original show, SPAMILTON has equal audacity to cast a caucassion actor as Michelle Obama (wink-wink) in Marissa Hecker, who richly embodies so many (all) delicious female roles with agile aplomb and listed in the playbill simply as Leading Ladies. She is both of “The Schuyler Sisters” with puppets, and sparkles in a running gag of Broadway royalty cameos begging for tickets (a marvelously pouty-lip Bernadette Peters as the Witch/Begger Woman from Into the Woods), and my personal favorite, the aforemntioned Liza with a Z’s lament for the good ole days of Cabaret-style Broadway shows with “Down with Rap.” Bring back the tunes!
Some of the early rap songs were hard to understamd/hear all of the new lyrics but there are some real gems. “His Shot”supplants “My Shot,” referring to Miranda’s shot at stardomm and immortality with this historical epic.
Brandon Kinley steals the limelight as the hapless villain and dandy King George losing his grip on the colonies, replacing the hilarious and brilliant “You’ll Be Back” with “Straight is Back,” a paean to all of the gay-themed musicals that fell out of vogue and were overwhelmed by the butch manliness of the Hamilton brand: i.e. Kinky Boots and La Cage Aux Folles (i”produced to death”). No queer musical icon is safe from the clutches of Alessandrini’s pokes: Avenue Q, The Cher Show , and “Hello” becomes “Goodbye” for The Book of Mormon.
A longtime fan of spoofs myself (Airplane, Naked Gun, Scary Movie), SPAMILTON is in this league but without the profane elements. The humor is wacky, witty, clever and harmless, in the vein of Greenville’s Cafe and Then Some comedy, but on a grander scale with sleek, and perfectly silly choreography (Gerry McIntyre) – with the men twerking and strutting bootylicious moves from Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”- that’s often just as funny as the lyrics.
And as the most pathetic orphan Annie ever. Rendell Debose secured the lion’s share of accolades for his priceless display and array of roles (Ben Franklin, George Washington among the male parts). And what a voice, and control of his instrument, going from 0 to 60 in 1 second flat.
In SPAMILTON, Webber is out and Sondheim is in. He was, after all, Miranda’s muse. Besides “Greens” from Into the Woods, there’s Sondheim-aplenty, including a spirited nod to Assassins, played by the likes of Grizabella, Aladdin, and Phantom.
The show is also thorough in its breadth and scope of Miranda’s journey from Into the Heights, through his “sellout” to Disney (a cameo by two Mary Poppins), and the buildup to the film version which has all of Broadway and Hollywood clamoring for a role including and especially Odom.
SPAMILTON is presented with a barebones traveling set (Morgan Large) of a curtain (flourished with a few revolutionary stars) framing a small opening in the center, a slice of what we remember as the two-story wood-framed set on Hamilton.
It is also the first of hopefully a new series of Off-Broadway shows that could be landing at the Gunter Theatre in the near future now that its star tenant South Carolina Children’s Theatre has its own state-of-the-art facility, leaving many weeks of programming to fill.
SPAMILTON: An American Parody will play a limited three-week engagement in the Peace Center’s Gunter Theatre through Jan. 5, 2020. Tickets are $57 and may be purchased by calling (864) 467-3000 or in person at the Peace Center Box Office or online at peacecenter.org.