By Shari Lifland (@shariontheaisle)
Like an inactive volcano or dormant, yet benign virus, the delightful and often scathingly funny Broadway parody show Forbidden Broadway (which closed in 2009 after a 25-year run) has reemerged from its lair deep within the fertile brain of its creator, Gerard Alessandrini. Its new incarnation is Spamilton an American Parody, a brilliant homage/spoof of the Broadway megahit Hamilton. It is well worth the wait. After a successful initial run at the Triad, a revamped version of the show recently reopened at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre on 47th Street—just a Playbill’s throw from the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where Hamilton mania reigns supreme.
The Playbill for Spamilton sets the tone: it’s called a “Playkill” and features the now iconic image from the Hamilton poster, with a twisted twist: this Hamilton cheekily thumbs his nose at the world. In a program note, Alessandrini explains his fascination with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s uber-successful brainchild, imagining that just as the Kennedy Presidency was known as the “Camelot Years” after Jackie Kennedy revealed that she and the President listened to the cast album of Camelot every night at bedtime, so might the Obamas (they championed it as their favorite musical). In Alessandrini’s words: “My fanciful imagination also extends to what Lin-Manuel Miranda might actually be thinking and doing…It’s all a figment of my twisted imagination and hopefully a glorious mash-up of theatre today and my wildest musical comedy dreams.”
Fittingly, Spamilton begins with the Obamas lying in bed, listening to you-know-what. The rest of the fast-paced, 90-minute production includes clever parodies of well-known Hamilton tunes: Lin-Manuel (Dan Rosales, hyper, nasal, and spot on) envisioning himself as the savior of Broadway, singing “I’m Not Going to Let Broadway Rot” (“Eventually all shows will be starring me”), The Schuyler Sisters (the gorgeous, belting Nicole Vanessa Ortiz, plus two Avenue Q-esque hand puppets) in an anti-Disney rant, and an inspired version of “What Did I Miss” that pokes fun at Hamilton’s you snooze/you lose, mile-a-minute rap lyrics. There’s also an uproarious spoof of Hamilton’s title song, retitled: “Lin-Manuel as Hamilton:” “You left the show as Hamilton, but Spamilton clings to you. Do you know we misquote your name? Do you know we rewrote your fame? Your score will never be the same.”
Five exceptionally talented young lead cast members play a multitude of roles. In addition to the aforementioned Rosales and Ortiz: Tristan J. Shuler, tall and handsome, in a huge afro wig as Daveed Diggs, Chris Anthony Giles (as an earnest Leslie Odom, Jr.), and Aaron Michael Ray, standing in for Christopher Jackson). Christine Pedi and Glenn Bassett impress in scene-stealing cameos. Pedi (a co-producer of Spamilton) appears in recurring roles as various “divas” desperately begging for Hamilton tickets—Glenn Close, Liza (hysterical), Audra MacDonald, and Barbra Streisand. Audience pleaser Bassett (also the show’s set designer and Alessandrini’s partner) sashays down the aisle in full-out King George regalia, lamenting that on today’s Broadway, “Straight is Back:” “Time will tell. Kinky Boots is going straight to hell.”
Happily, Alessandrini hasn’t strayed far from his beloved Forbidden Broadway roots. In addition to Hamilton, he throws plenty of other shows under the bus, including a highly entertaining look at some silly fantasy theatrical mash-ups: “Dolly and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Lion King and I,” and “Avenue Crucible” (“Everybody’s a little bit scary”). He also gets in a few digs at Miranda’s reverence for Sondheim with “Finishing the Rap,” “Another Hundred Lyrics Come Out of His Brain,” and a razor-sharp parody of “Assassins.”
In the end, the Hamilton/Spamilton actors knowingly muse about an inevitable film version of Hamilton, with an inspired parody tune, “I Want to be in the Film When it Happens.” In a sad-but-true acknowledgement of the longtime tradition of casting Hollywood stars instead of the original Broadway actors in show-to-film projects, Giles (as Leslie Odom, Jr.) laments: “Not gonna be in the film when it happens.”
Musical director Fred Barton’s rock-solid piano accompaniment, along with the fiercely talented, hard-working cast, and Alessandrini’s creative genius and ongoing love for musical theatre, combine for a fast-moving, entertaining, and at times hysterical, evening. Although those who haven’t seen Hamilton will still enjoy Alessandrini’s parody creation, as with its ancestor, Forbidden Broadway, Spamilton is best appreciated by those who know the (Hamilton) score.
Spamilton an American Parody is at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre. It is created, written, and directed by Gerard Alessandrini, produced by John Freedson, Christine Pedi, David Zippel, and Alessandrini. Choreography by Gerry McIntyre; Costume Design by Dustin Cross, Lighting Design by Alex Nahon, with Musical Direction by Fred Barton, and Musical Arrangements by Fred Barton and Richard Danley.
For ticket information: www.spamilton.com
Shari Lifland is a New York City-area writer who loves being in the room where it happens–on or Off Broadway.