The overwhelming success of Broadway juggernaut “Hamilton” currently playing to sell-out crowds in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and soon London has producers wondering how to top it or at least capitalize on it. So, it is no wonder that Gerard Alessandrini, an impresario who has made his career spoofing musical theater, developed a show that spoofs “Hamilton,” its creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Broadway musicals in general. Playing off-Broadway too, the show opened Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in the Los Angeles area.
The 80-minute (no intermission) show sets the parody intentions from the start with its design that pinches the “Hamilton” logo. They switched out the subtitle, “An American Musical,” for “An American Parody.”
Besides the logo, “Spamilton” contains many visual elements from “Hamilton,” like the wardrobe and look of many characters. It also tells the story of Miranda, the son of immigrants, trying to be a theatrical revolutionary.
The show also features versions of many songs from “Hamilton” (as well as some well-known ditties from other musicals) with revamped lyrics. For example, the “Alexander Hamilton” show opener spoofs Miranda: “How does a whipper snapper, Student of rap, And a Latin, Trapped in the middle of a … Manhattan flat ….” Then Wilkie Ferguson III, portraying Leslie Odom Jr., who won a Tony for playing Aaron Burr, adds “I’m the damn fool who slayed him.” “I’m the damn fool who played him” is the response from William Cooper Howell, who portrays Miranda/Hamilton.
Other songs parodied included “My Shot.” In the spoof version, “His Shot,” Miranda proclaims, “I am not gonna let Broadway rot.” The character later sings, “Oh, am I soundin’ too wise? My verbiage gets me excited … I promise that I won’t compromise.” To which a cast member says, “Let’s get this guy a Pulitzer Prize,” combining the original line “Let’s get this guy in front of a crowd” with a tweak over the fact Miranda won a Pulitzer for the show.
In The Hype
Several numbers in the show skewer Miranda’s success. “In the Hype” is a not-so-subtle reference to the insane popularity he has achieved and his first Tony-winning show, “In the Heights.” Instead of signing “History Has Its Eyes on You,” the “Spamilton” Miranda sing’s “Hollywood Has Its Eyes on Me.” That number goes on to make fun on his scoring “Moana” and starring in the forthcoming “Mary Poppins” sequel. The desire to be in “The Room Where It Happens” becomes “The Film When It Happens” here.
Besides Ferguson and Howell, the talented ensemble effectively impersonate their Broadway counterparts:
- Zakiya Young is fabulous as Angelica Schuyler/Renée Elise Goldsberry. Angelica’s other siblings are played by hand puppets.
- John Devereaux replicates the huge-haired eccentricity of Daveed Diggs. Diggs is the charismatic actor who portrayed the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson on Broadway.
- Glenn Bassett plays King George and camps up “You’ll Be Back” as “Straight Is Back.” In the song, he bemoans that “Straight is back/Soon you’ll see/Campy musicals went out with Glee.”
While the show is fun, it seems bloated by all the non-“Hamilton” numbers and Broadway diva impersonations Alesssandrini added. There are references to or song bits from “West Side Story,” “Annie,” “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Man of La Mancha,” “Wicked,” ”Sweeney Todd,” “A Chorus Line,” “Gypsy” and “The King and I.” There are brief impersonations of JLo, Beyonce, Gloria Estefan, Audra McDonald, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, and others. That is just the female list!
The parody subject that works best here involves Stephen Sondheim. That Broadway composer and lyricist was known for songs that are more complex lyrically and melodically, particularly as he career evolved. It seems like a natural evolution from Sondheim’s witty wordplay to Miranda’s rapping. In the New York Times last month, Miranda called Sondheim “musical theater’s greatest lyricist.” In “Spamilton,” a Sondheim sendup comments on Miranda’s rap, “These are the rhymes that try men’s souls.”
The Odom/Burr character also offers Miranda writing advice that plays on “Hamilton: lyrics. He tell him, “Smile More, Rhyme Less. Be terser in your verse, sir.”
“Spamilton and its spoofs of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton,” and Broadway offer an entertaining evening, give or take a few misfires. While not great, the show ultimately toasts Miranda’s accomplishment. It also requires some knowledge of the “Hamilton” score to enjoy some of the parodies. “Spamilton” will be at the Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, Calif., through Jan 7, 2018.
By Dyanne Weiss
Performance Nov. 12, 2017
Center Theatre Group
Photos by Craig Schwartz and © 2017. (top) L-R: Wilkie Ferguson III, John Devereaux, William Cooper Howell, Zakiya Young and Dedrick A. Bonner in the West Coast premiere of “Spamilton” at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre. (Middle) Wilkie Ferguson III. (Bottom) L-R: Wilkie Ferguson III, Zakiya Young and Dedrick A. Bonner . Created, written and directed by Gerard Alessandrini, “Spamilton” continues through January 7, 2018.