Created, written, and directed by the superbly talented Gerard Alessandrini, “Spamilton: An American Parody” is as much an ode to Lin-Manuel Miranda and “Hamilton” as it is to the unending joy provided by the characters, songs, and visionaries of musical theatre (principally Stephen Sondheim) over the years.
“Spamilton,” which first opened in September 2016 in New York, before adding a second production in Chicago, can now be seen in the Greater Los Angeles area at Culver City’s Kirk Douglas Theatre through January 7th. Like its muse-ical “Hamilton,” which is also playing in the aforementioned three metropolises, “Spamilton” has a wide appeal and is a triumph of the spoof genre with its satirical musical flourishes. The production incisively, wittily, and uproariously plays on “Hamilton’s” known-by-heart lyrics, while incorporating a welcome history lesson on the sights and sounds of musical theatre’s pantheon of perfection, of which “Hamilton” is now doubtlessly among, particularly as the modern-day musical jewel.
The gold-framed stage where it all happens – conceived of by Glen Bassett, who also plays King George III — is refreshingly free of any frills, featuring only a rectangular “Spamilton” sign in the middle, whereby the performers, nine in total (including two understudies), appear out from and bedazzle for a blistering and feverishly paced 80 minutes. The cast members, who are all excellent singers, rappers, and dancers (Gerry McIntyre’s choreography is spot-on) are all gut-bustingly funny, working off each other like a well-orchestrated team, and in tune with the musical supervision of Fred Barton, whose piano accompaniment is as lively and energetic as an entire pit orchestra.
The narrative is appropriately self-aware, as it shatters the fourth wall into a million glorious pieces. It’s as if the original Broadway cast is on stage again, decked out in their late-Baroque garb, while forgetting which century they’re in, and acting out their personal and constantly running thoughts in circumlocutory fashion. Suffice it to say, this comes across as hilariously inventive as one would expect.
At the forefront of “Spamilton,” is of course Broadway luminary Lin-Manuel Miranda (portrayed by William Cooper Howell), who rises above his own unreachable standard set by “In the Heights,” pledging to not “let Broadway rot.” To full comic effect, his cast mates playfully chastise the ego of their courageous leader who had the roaring presumptuousness to change the landscape of Broadway forever with quips like, “in New York, you can be a big ham.” Howell plays off the self-aggrandizing facial expressions very well, effectively contributing to the very humorous juxtaposition of our image of the real Miranda, who is as humble as they come, and what he would be like if he were an insufferable media-hype-fed egoist who had to be reminded by Aaron Burr/Leslie Odom, Jr. (Wilkie Ferguson III) to “smile more and rhyme less.”
The satirical interpretation of “Hamilton” continues unflaggingly throughout, replete with topical humor (“twerk, twerk”) and ageless references (“I am not throwing away my pot!”). It, moreover, reimagines Aaron Burr as being amusingly irritable, thanks to Ferguson’s terrific performance. The musical also illustrates two of the Schuyler Sisters (Angelica and Peggy) as marionettes, which are puppeteered by Zakiya Young’s saucy Angelica (who also plays a drolly sepulchral Eliza); re-introduces King George III as a “Queen,” who fears that “straight is back, soon you’ll see;” remarkably renders Daveed Diggs and his bodacious hair as impossibly cooler, owing to John Devereaux’s effortless aplomb on stage; and infuses George Washington with extra chutzpah, portrayed impeccably by Dedrick A. Bonner, who finally gets his “One Big Song,” with declarative high notes and audience cheers galore.
Furthermore, legendary pop-culture icons like J.Lo, Beyoncé, Gloria Estefan (all three are performed by the versatile Young), and especially Barbara Streisand and Liza Minnelli make appearances in the show. The latter two are depicted by Susanne Blakeslee, who presents both divas with a requisite (and hysterical) over-the-top quality. Liza is regrettably not down with rap; and Streisand, who exists in her own stratospheric nebula, simply needs to be in “The Film When It Happens.”
But, even more so than the moments that pay homage to darlings of the Broadway sphere, such as Streisand, Minnelli, or even Judy Garland, it is the compendium of musicals referred to by the cast that makes “Spamilton” more than simply satire, but rather a celebration. “Gypsy,” “Hello, Dolly!”, “Guys and Dolls,” “Ragtime,” “Man of La Mancha,” “The Lion King,” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (e.g., “come see our show with no imagination”) are but a few examples.
That said, the most honored works of this sincere parody belong to Stephen Sondheim, who is “Broadway’s Yoda” and Miranda’s primary theatre hero. Over the course of the show, allusions to “West Side Story” (e.g., “Cool Duel”), “Into the Woods” (i.e., “careful the children you cast“), “Assassins,” “Company,” and “Sweeney Todd” get a lot of play; however, it is the “Sunday in the Park with George” associations that prove to be the most memorable.
If Broadway chieftain Stephen Sondheim, in arguably his most quasi-autobiographical song, was “Finishing the Hat,” then it would only be apropos that his modern successor, Lin-Manuel Miranda, would be “finishing the rap,” sprinkling it with a similar extra-syllabic euphoria, en route to actualizing one of the most acclaimed musicals already since being introduced to the public consciousness only a few years ago. Undoubtedly, if Sondheim were sitting in the audience he would be proud and humbled, in between being bowled over from rib-tickling ecstasy.
Overall, Alessandrini’s “Spamilton” does more than just lampoon and comically roast its main source material; it is a unique musical unto itself with an originality that enables it to stand, if not rise up, on its own accord. Most importantly, the many laugh-out-loud jokes resonate as much as they do because they are inspired by not just “Hamilton,” but the rich history and pioneers of musical theatre that preceded and impressed upon Miranda’s poetic vision about the unsung founding father. “Spamilton” blithely “Raises a Glass to Broadway,” and is something you will want to say yes to — over and over again.
For more information about “Spamilton” at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre, please visit centertheatregroup.org/tickets/kirk-douglas-theatre/2017-18-season/spamilton/