BWW Review: SPAMILTON at Starlight Theatre
Need an evening that stretches your G-rated mind with a fun, supremely entertaining, ninety minute rib-tickling exercise? How about an evening free from national politics? Oddly, it is available in a show about the nation's founders and others. You will enjoy "Spamilton, an American Parody" literally on the stage at Starlight Theatre's reformatted Cohen Stage through Sunday November 17.
Don't be fooled by the name. This is not exclusively about Lin Manuel Mirada's hit musical "Hamilton." This is an "inside baseball" look at musical theater for all theater nerds and for those who have enjoyed musical shows on a less intense level. It does use "Hamilton" as a jumping off place and then spins into a totally off the wall, but controlled gentle ribbing of trends in Musical Theater especially of the Broadway genre. You gotta laugh, often and out loud.
"Spamilton" is the latest contribution to the songbook appendix from Writer Director Gerard Alessandrini. His brilliant, twisted mind and inventive sense of humor previously conjured up the constantly updating and always hysterical "Forbidden Broadway."
Alessandrini is clever, but this six person cast of "Spamilton" grabs their alabaster jeans adorned with glittering gold stars, sparkly buff vests, and skintight faux riding boots and jerks their performances into the stratosphere. These five guys and one gal are among the hardest working, letter perfect actors I have seen in a while. They work flawlessly through some of the toughest material imaginable as dozens of characters and all at breakneck speed while dancing double-time. It should be noted that if you blow a line in "Spamilton," you might never catch up. And this is funny stuff once you catch on. I cannot imagine doing this show without resuscitation standing by after the final curtain. Whew!
If these actors ever get the opportunity to work in the actual cast of "Hamilton," it will definitely be easier than this. They are T.J. Newton as Hamilton, Datus Puryear as Aaron Burr (and others), Rendell Debose as Ben Franklin (and others), Jared Alexander as Daweed Diggs), Brandon Kinley as King George and Marissa Hecker as all the dozens of leading ladies except for a brief appearance by Rendell Debose again as "Annie." These folks are tremendous singers, dancers, and comedians.
It would be remiss not to mention the tremendous contribution of Matthew Hougland at the keys of the grand piano. Matthew starts a few bars prior to the beginning of the show and never slows down or looks back. Instead of a page turner (and this score is a real page turner), Matthew sits in front of an electronic tablet with the score on the screen. As a page ends, he swipes to the next. The musical director gets no shot at taking even a few staffs off.
"Spamilton" begins and ends at the "White House" during the Obama administration. Although some of this material is "inside baseball" stuff, you will get the broad (and I mean broad) outlines. The late, former First Lady Jackie Kennedy once commented that she and Jack never retired except to the strains of their favorite musical "Camelot." (It is kind of ironic that this was a musical about an ancient, mythical, Welsh King played by two Brits and a Canadian.)
Anyways, I digress. The first, well-known, public showing was of a song from "Hamilton" performed by Lin Manuel Miranda himself. It took place during a poetry jam hosted by the Obamas in the State Dining Room in the big White House. The Obamas rocked out. Which explains why the show begins and ends with the Obamas retiring.
"Spamilton" includes gentle jibes at more Broadway shows, composers, and general characters than I can count or remember. Expect to see references or song parodies to "South Pacific," "The Lion King" "Camelot," " Annie," "The King and I," Stephen Sondheim, "Willie Wonka," "Cher," "Phantom," "Avenue Q," Barbara Streisand, Bernadette Peters, "Wicked," "Into the Woods," "Sweeney Todd," "Man of LaMancha," Mary Poppins," "Harry Potter," Liza Minelli, corporate musicals," and bad, miscast, movie musicals. I am confident sure some of the jokey allusions blew by me.
For those of you who have not availed yourself of the indoor theater at Starlight. President Rich Baker and staff have turned the huge stagehouse into a comfortable, 500 seat theatrical experience with new risers and comfortable, theater seats. Close parking is free and refreshments are available in the "Applause Club."
"Spamilton" continues at Starlight through Sunday, November 17. Tickets are available online, by telephone, or at the box office. It is worth your time and effort. "Hamilton" creator Lin Manuel Miranda saw "Spamilton" and "laughed his brains out."
Photos by Roger Mostroianni