“Spamilton,” an often clever if uneven spoof of the musical “Hamilton,” is like the 26th edition of “Forbidden Broadway,” the show that “Spamilton”author Gerard Alessandrini created more than three decades ago. The 25 editions of “Forbidden Broadway” have been cabaret revues, with quick-hit parody songs of current Broadway fare mixed in with some endlessly recycled chestnuts, mostly musical mash-ups and diva demolitions.
“Spamilton” follows the “Forbidden Broadway” formula, with the 80-minute show hitting “Hamilton” highlights but also spritzing barbs at targets up and down the Great White Way. “Spamilton” is as silly and knowing as its “Forbidden Broadway” predecessors, and similarly hit and miss. The show’s greatest strength is its cast, five talented performers (and a guest star) who capture the actors they are mimicking with impressive precision, to occasionally hilarious effect.
For those theatergoers who win its 10-cent lottery, “Spamilton” is certainly worth every penny. But most of the rest of the audience (especially “Hamilton” fans) will likely leave feeling entertained, and not just because we’re forced to drink. (There’s a two-drink minimum.)
Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.
The conceit of “Spamilton,” to the extent there is one, is that “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda (like Alexander Hamilton) is at the forefront of a revolution, but Miranda’s revolution is against the tired formulas of Broadway. “I am not throwing away my shot” becomes “I am not gonna let Broadway rot.”
That doesn’t stop a few digs at “Hamilton” itself and at Miranda. Odom/Burr’s famous advice to Miranda/Hamilton becomes “Smile more. Rhyme less.”
Daveed Diggs’ song “What’d I Miss” becomes
What’d you miss?
The lyrics go by so fast
You are in the abyss
…Can you believe you paid $800 for this?
There is also a song called “In The Hype” that pokes fun at Miranda’s intense new celebrity.
The King George number “You’ll be Back” becomes “Straight Is Back,” making explicit what is arguably a subtext of anti-gay mockery in the original “Hamilton” song.
And at one point, the young hip (hop) revolutionaries sing: “I’m just like my country.I’m young, greedy and weedy. And I’m not throwing away my pot.”
But most of the digs are reserved for other shows. There are several mash-ups of recent Broadway musicals, such as “American Psycho” with “An American in Paris”: To the tune of I’ll Build a Staircase to Paradise,
I’ll kill my friends
In my underwear
With a big axe ev’ryday
Alessandrini is a master at coming up with new derisive lyrics to attach to familiar Broadway tunes. In “Spamilton,” he makes fun of rap, but largely, again, by putting new lyrics to old Broadway tunes; my favorite was his use of Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People”:
Another hundred syllables came out of my mouth and fell onto the ground…
While he deserves kudos for tackling rap, it’s clearly not a form in which the author revels or excels, as he does show tunes. In the opening rap, Chris Anthony Giles as Leslie Odom Jr. /Aaron Burr begins:
How does a whipper snapper student of rap
and a Latin
trapped in the middle of a Manhattan
while other writers kiss
the corporate dollar
grow up to be a hip-hop op’ra scholar?
Giles is terrific in capturing Leslie Odom Jr.’s physical movement and even his speech pattern – that careful enunciation. But compare “Spamilton”’s opening verse to the original:
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
“Spamilton” doesn’t scan as well as “Hamilton.” It clearly knows the musical (and expects you to too), but its heart feels rooted in the (lesser?) musicals it gleefully disparages, and in the Broadway music, traditions and personalities of yore. “Spamilton” is full of “cameos” by divas. Some are disguised as beggar women seeking Hamilton tickets (Lin gives them tickets, but to other shows.) Some beg him to record a duet with them. Barbra Streisand sings:
I wanna be in the film when it happens
The film when it happens
Most of the divas, the night I saw “Spamilton,” were played by guest performer (and show producer) Christine Pedi; the rest by regular cast member Nora Schell. Perhaps “Spamilton” is groundbreaking too, in its own way. It may be the only cabaret show in America where Liza, Barbra, J Lo, Beyonce, Bernadette, Patti LuPone, Gloria Estefan and Carol Channing are all impersonated by women.
Triad (158 West 72nd Street).
Written by Gerard Alessandrini
Gerry McIntyre (Choreography), Dustin Cross (Costume Design), Richard Danley(Musical Arrangements), and Michael Cassara, CSA (Casting Director).
Cast: Juwan Crawley, Chris Anthony Giles, Nicholas Alexander Rodriguez, Dan Rosales, and Nora Schell,
Running time: 80 minutes
Tickets: $59 $84.90 plus two drink minimum
Spamilton is scheduled to run through October 30, 2016
Update: Spamilton has been extended through December 31, 2016