Metro, Arts, Theatre

‘Spamilton’ Challenges Miranda, Broadway

“Look, I made a rap,” announces Adrian Lopez-as-Lin Manuel Miranda-as-Hamilton to Chuckie Benson-as-Ben Franklin-as-Stephen “the Broadway Yoda” Sondheim.

Or, more properly, so goes the script of Gerard Alessandrini: Needham native, Broadway insider, and creator, writer, and director of Spamilton: An American Parody, debuting in Boston this week for an extended run presented by the Huntington Theatre Company.

If those sentences seem like they each could’ve been split up, you’ll just need to read a bit faster. Spamilton, like Miranda’s historical-epic-in-a-play-turned-Broadway-phenomenon, moves at 100 syllables a minute.

But unlike Hamilton, Alessandrini’s revue—a favorite genre of his following the success of Forbidden Broadway—covers everything from West Side Story to American Express ads. In rap.

It’s this same style of (slightly) overpacked rap that leads Miranda, in a bitingly self-aware caricature of his MacArthur Genius, Pulitzer Prize, and Tony Award-adorned namesake to announce that indeed, “my syntax is horrendous.” Lopez effortlessly keeps pace as a high-energy, Sondheim-fanboy Miranda while promising that he’s “not gonna let Broadway rot” (to the tune of “My Shot.”)

Miranda’s professional life is chronicled, as he casts Hamilton, drags Disney franchises (before finding himself invisibly starring in one), and shows his unwavering support for America’s small businesses.

But in Spamilton, Hamilton works best as a vehicle to take stock of contemporary Broadway theatre and culture. It reminds the audience of theatre dorks that though Miranda might write like it’s “going out of style,” Broadway’s never been hotter and is only getting more extravagant. With an oversized “Spamilton” poster center stage and the now-iconic Hamilton star emblazoned on the actors’ pants, the play delights with an endless cast of character and talent impersonations, few of which are positive.

Alessandrini seems to be faulting the industry. Unoriginal reproductions like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (“Come with me, and you’ll see, a world with no imagination”) or past-their-prime productions like The Lion King or Wicked serve as the theatrical context for Hamilton. He uses King George III (Brandon Kinley) to deliver a flamboyant, bedazzled “Message from a Queen” lambasting Broadway’s recent shying away from LGBT themes, decrying that “straight is back.”

But then, in comes Miranda: the Broadway savior; the genre-blending Renaissance man of history and Sondheim and Spamalot and shots, is ready to reignite the scene. In one of the more serious scenes—or, at least, one with fewer than a laugh per minute—Alessandrini shows a viral, successful Miranda, who can’t walk around his neighborhood without being stopped for signatures by street sellers or fans alike.

And Spamilton doesn’t really hate on him or Hamilton that much. Instead, Alessandrini takes a step back and reminds viewers that, despite the craze of “rich kids who are mostly white, spending their parents’ dough at night,” Hamilton is just another show. Sure, Miranda sprays paint over a sign held by two toupeed men from The Book of Mormon that declared it the best show in decades. But, somehow, that’s how exciting Hamilton remains, almost four years later—Broadway tickets still sell for hundreds of dollars, with seemingly no end in sight.

Alessandrini’s actors, thankfully, embody that energy. Ani Djirdjirian (credited as playing the “Leading Ladies”) astonishes with her dynamic range in both appearance and imitations from her sardonic performance as a single Schuyler sister (she speaks for the other two sisters, who are hand puppets of diminishing importance) to a dilapidated Barbra Streisand announcing Tony nominees (“Hamilton, Hamilton, Yentl, and Hamilton”). Djirdjirian glides through her quick-witted, fast-paced lines in a show where, like Hamilton, the only job of a Schuyler actress is to “sing on pitch” she says, in a total monotone.

Djirdjirian is joined by Dominic Pecikonis as Daveed Diggs (and others), who’s far more than double-cast as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, alluding to what Alessandrini paints as a confusing decision by Miranda to cast the actor in two different roles in Hamilton. Datus Puryear commands the show as Leslie Odom Jr., who played Aaron Burr in Hamilton’s original run, and as someone who can’t quite decide whether he’s jealous of Miranda’s success, or is the only adult in a room full of tomcats.

A daily double-level knowledge of American theatre, Hamilton, and Miranda himself will certainly aid in keeping the frequent one-liners and references from rapping past you. But like the cast, you’ll be rewarded for feeling “in” with the crowd and Alessandrini’s critiques. Following “The Film When it Happens”—a take on one of Hamilton’s best-known numbers “The Room Where it Happens”—the cast is visibly exhausted from the dance-heavy bit and the layered, mile-a-minute rap.

With accomplished grins they proudly announce in unison: “When the show’s over, my voice is, shot!”

Photo Courtesy of Huntington Theatre Company

February 19, 2019