Rachel Weinberg has been a freelance theater critic around Chicago for more than three years. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Rachel worked for two years in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre and spent a season as a Marketing Apprentice for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. You can read all of Rachel's reviews at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and find her on Twitter @RachelRWeinberg.
Yando Lopez and Donterrio Johnson in SPAMILTON. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Review: SPAMILTON at the Royal George Theatre
By Rachel Weinberg
Though tickets are certainly hard to come by for the Chicago engagement of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical theater juggernaut HAMILTON, the laughs come easily at its hammier (pardon the pun) parody counterpart SPAMILTON at the Royal George. The latest in the line of Broadway parodies from FORBIDDEN BROADWAY creator Gerard Alessandrini (who also directs), SPAMILTON pays loving and playful homage to Miranda’s masterwork. The resulting show is witty, endlessly entertaining, and genuinely had me in stitches.
While none of the jabs at HAMILTON are particularly harsh, Alessandrini isn’t afraid to take aim at the modern Broadway landscape over the course of the show as well. Because SPAMILTON structurally hews closely to its source material, however, the construction works incredibly well. The opening number has the cast declaring, “Who are we spoofing? Lin-Manuel as Hamilton!” to the tune of HAMILTON’s opening number. This kind of declarative, energetic fun sets the tone for an evening of assured comedy. In writing SPAMILTON, Alessandrini proves he’s not throwing away his shot at providing clever satire and ample humor. And his version of Miranda is equally assured, as he declares “I am not gonna let Broadway rot” to the tune of “My Shot.”
While the direct parody of HAMILTON works wonderfully throughout the show, so too do the more general Broadway references. SPAMILTON is rife with musical theater in-jokes. While audiences certainly need not have seen the source material to appreciate SPAMILTON, it certainly helps to know the cast recording and to be a Broadway fan. Along the way, SPAMILTON sends up classics from WEST SIDE STORY to GYPSY. It also makes light of some more recent shows—one sequence suggests the possibility of future Broadway mash-ups, such as “An American Psycho in Paris.” This is a comedy show for theater people, which makes it all the more hilarious for those in the know.
From the moment they stride onstage in Dustin Cross’s costumes that cleverly evoke Paul Tazewell’s original designs (with the addition of some playful stars on pants pockets), the ensemble makes clear that they came to play. While SPAMILTON has jokes aplenty, these performers are not kidding around when it comes to talent. As the Lin-Manuel Miranda stand-in, Yando Lopez captures the confident optimism of the original actor and displays formidable vocal chops. David Robbins proves he isn’t afraid to ham it up in the show, particularly in a moment in which he portrays Little Orphan Annie (the details of which I won’t share here). In the role of Daveed Diggs as Lafayette and Jefferson, Donterrio Johnson delightfully sends the character and raps like a dream, especially in the cleverly titled “The Fresh Prince of Big Hair.” As the Burr stand-in, Eric Andrew Lewis has a singing voice as smooth as butter. HAMILTON’s original Burr, Leslie Odom Jr., truly has a vocal match in Lewis. And as all the ladies of HAMILTON, Michelle Lauto brings down the house. With two puppets in hand (a signature of Alessandrini’s FORBIDDEN BROADWAY reviews), she conquers the role of all three Schuyler sisters single-handedly. SPAMILTON also features magnificent guest turns from pianist Adam LaSalle as the King George III surrogate in the uproarious “Straight is Back” and guest diva Christine Pedi, who absolutely nails her impersonations of several Broadway staples.
Just as the ensemble laments that they want to be in “The Film When It Happens” so too should musical theater lovers and devoted “Hamilfans” want to be in the room where SPAMILTON happens. Click. Boom.