Raised in Needham, playwright, performer and director Gerard Alessandrini has always savored the stage. His latest show, Spamilton, spins a fictional story of how Hamilton was made. We caught up with Alessandrini as his musical continues its run with the Huntington Theatre Company through April 7 at the BCA’s Calderwood Pavilion.
How did the project begin? I actually thought at first before I started writing anything, “How am I gonna do this? Now, I could make it a parody about [Alexander] Hamilton and Aaron Burr, but of course Lin-Manuel [Miranda] did that on his own.” So I thought, “Well, how am I going to have a through line?” … I thought, “I have to make it about Lin-Manuel’s challenge to what was happening on Broadway at the time.” What do you do now that you’ve shined a completely different light on Broadway? The light is so bright it’s showing all the cracks and flaws and dust from the old Broadway that we’ve been used to for the past 10 or 15 years.
Was Spamilton difficult to write because of Hamilton’s musical score? I was used to diving in and learning what the writers of the original pieces had done. And I did the same with Hamilton. I had to sort of pull it apart and research it. I do have to say that I’m also using Lin-Manuel’s rhythms and frameworks, so a lot of the work was already done for me. The more creative aspect—I haven’t really said this to anybody—is actually the cut-and-paste idea. How much of it do you use? When do you go on to the next thing? It’s the truncating of it. That’s a challenge, too, because I’m trying to get the essential part of Hamilton but I’m doing a collage of it. Editing it down for comic effect is as much of a challenge as writing it.
Much of Spamilton explores how stale Broadway was before Hamilton. Do you personally think it was? Yes. A lot of what is in Spamilton is a fantasy of what I think Lin-Manuel felt. I’m an acquaintance of his and he’s a wonderful man and he’s very generous to me, but I’m not really privy to what goes on in his mind. So I superimposed a lot of what I thought on my imaginary character. So that is true. I felt that Broadway was becoming very static. It was mostly jukebox musicals and some revivals here and there. I always liked Broadway writers, particularly like Maury Yeston and Stephen Sondheim, who were sort of breaking new ground every time they wrote a new musical. It was always finding a new way to musicalize a story. You never knew what you were going to get. … That was really lost until Lin-Manuel wrote Hamilton.