The creator of Forbidden Broadway returns with a musical that pokes fun at Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton.
The world turned upside down when Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton burst onto the scene. Miranda's Tony-winning juggernaut, which changed the game in terms of storytelling and musical presentation, suddenly became an era-defining sensation, with its writer and leading man becoming the poster child for the new generation of Broadway.
By the end of Miranda's run in the show this past July, a certain amount of fatigue had set in. Spectators grew tired of hearing the show's name recited in the news media ad nauseam, especially if they, like many other people, couldn't secure tickets. Perhaps the most exhausted observer of all was Gerard Alessandrini, the theater industry's premiere parodist and the impresario behind the classic Forbidden Broadway franchise.
In his latest show, Alessandrini has taken aim at the success of Miranda and Hamilton. Spamilton, at the Triad, is just as funny and bitter as the Forbidden Broadway series, but it focuses solely on that one show at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, as opposed to a whole smattering of productions. Aficionados of the form (and the message-board chatterati) will definitely want to be in the room where this show happens.
That's not to say it's perfect. As in the Forbidden Broadway series, there's a bunch of material in Spamilton that works, and just as much that doesn't. Alessandrini's writing is always best — and funniest — when the knives are sharp. "In New York you can be a real ham," sings the cast in the hilarious opening number, "Lin Manuel as Hamilton." In "His Shot," Dan Rosales as Miranda recites, "I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory," rearranged as, "I imagine the death of theater when they're singing 'Memory.'"
Miranda's Tony-winning costars Leslie Odom Jr. (Chris Anthony Giles), Daveed Diggs (Nicholas Edwards), and Renée Elise Goldsberry (Nora Schell) also join in the fun. There's a battle to see who can rap faster: Diggs ("The Fresh Prince of Big Hair") or Goldsberry ("Un-Satisfied"). Odom laments the fact that he probably won't be in "The Film When It Happens." A critique of the cast's diction ("What Did You Miss?") is followed by a section of Sondheim tunes ("Another Hundred Syllables"). It stings, especially for fans of Hamilton itself, but these moments are so sassy and intelligent that the giggles bubble up like champagne.
The easier laughs are less impressive. "Twerk, twerk," replacing "Work, work" during "The Schuyler Sisters," is a bit groan-inducing, as is "Straight Is Back," a riff on Hamilton's rampant testosterone content, sung with commitment by special guest star (and production stage manager) Glenn Bassett in Jonathan Groff mode as the fey King George III.
Other aspects feel more like score-settling. As in his past productions, Alessandrini takes a tiresome number of potshots at the British theatrical invasion of the 1980s, particularly Andrew Lloyd Webber. He seems gleeful in trying to predict the downfall of The Book of Mormon now that Hamilton is the new kid on the block, taking shape as "Book of No More Mormon." And an appearance from veteran performer Christine Pedi (also the show's creative consultant and producer), singing "Down With Rap" (a reworking of "Down With Love") while impersonating Liza Minnelli, kills the show's otherwise fast-paced momentum.
Rosales delivers a brilliant comic send-up of Miranda's Alexander Hamilton persona, with an "aw, shucks" vibe and long, stringy-haired wig. Giles and Edwards are completely convincing down to the tics and mannerisms of their real-life character inspirations. Juwan Crawley nearly steals the show at a segment near the end (you'll know it when you see it).
But Schell is the most important find, oozing with charisma and a voice that could actually score her a coveted role in one of Hamilton's many companies. Gerry McIntyre's energetic choreography and Dustin Cross' deliberately low-rent costumes delightfully imitate the Tony-winning creations of Andy Blankenbuehler and Paul Tazewell.
Eighty minutes devoted to the mockery of a single piece of theater does get a little tiresome by the end; the beauty of Forbidden Broadway is that it is a pu pu platter of satire, where everyone and everything on Broadway is a target. Still, the theater scene isn't the same without Alessandrini's brand of humor, at once loving and mean, always hoping for the industry to be better than it is. While Spamilton might not blow us all away consistently, it's impossible to say no to this production.