From Philly to Broadway- James Ijames’ Fat Ham is a Delicious Retelling of Hamlet

-Brenda Hillegas
photo by Joan Marcus

Show of hands- how many of us have begrudgingly attended a family gathering? Even with promises of a signature dish that only grandma knows the recipe to, the event still isn’t worth all the drama that you know is going to unfold. Only a handful of cousins will roll their eyes with you as you witness, yet again, just how dysfunctional your relatives are.

Well, meet Juicy (just give Marcel Spears the Tony now) who is about to enter a deeper hell than the one he’s already in when a family BBQ / wedding celebration takes place not even a week after his father’s death (he was shanked in prison). The wedding? His mom Tedra (Nikki Crawford)…to his uncle Rev (Billy Eugene Jones) aka his father’s brother. Of course, the ghost of Juicy’s father appears- through the BBQ smoker- to convince Juicy to murder Rev before he takes control of the family’s BBQ restaurant. Considering that Tedra and Rev spent all of Juicy’s tuition money from his online courses to remodel their bathroom…well, I’d want to murder the dude too. Throw in a cousin, some family friends, sexual tension and a lot of weed, and it turns out, this is one family gathering we all want to be at.

For 90 minutes, you’ll be sucked into the hilarity, drama, secrets, food fights, party games (karaoke and charades!), and heart to hearts as Ijames’ modern, Southern, queer Hamlet is guaranteed to win awards this Broadway season. As laugh/scream out loud funny as Fat Ham is, it’s still worth shedding a tear or two as some of the characters gain the courage to break out free from generational traumas and traditions to shine as themselves. It’s not easy, but it’s refreshing.

When I first heard of Fat Ham, it was via a press release from Philadelphia’s Wilma Theatre in late 2020. The world-premiere, digital production was filmed on site in Virginia (the show takes place in the South) for people to watch at home while still mostly in COVID isolation. As fantastic as it was in that format, Fat Ham needed to be performed live with audience reactions. After a sold-out, and extended, run at the Public Theatre last Spring, this not-so-tragic Shakespeare retelling made its way to American Airlines Theatre!

Philadelphia, this is your chance to experience Fat Ham beyond the digital screen. Dare I say, it’s the most fun you’ll have in a theatre this season. Do you like Radiohead’s “Creep”? Well, this show has it! Do you like flash and confetti? Yup, Fat Ham has that too. Don’t book it to the train as soon as the lights go down, you’ll want to stay for this curtain call. You’ll want another helping of this feast!

Fat Ham is on Broadway for a strictly limited engagement through June 25th. Though I’m crossing my fingers for an extension so you have more time to plan a trip to NYC to see this absolute gem of a show (I mean, there’s a disco ball so it is shiny), don’t waste a second securing tickets.

Thanks for inviting us to the cookout, Fat Ham.

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