Have we tired of Hamilton yet? Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop founding father musical bio garnered 11 Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Last week the Broadway hit grossed more than $2 million and there’s no indication that sales will be slowing down any time soon.
Enter Gerard Alessandrini, the formidable force behind the mostly successful Spamilton, his latest installment in a career of Forbidden Broadway parodies that have spanned 34 years. Up until now, the shows have been revues that poke fun at the classics and whatever may be on boards at the time.
But just as Hamilton seems to have cracked the musical theater mold, so has it cast new light on the Forbidden Broadway formula. This time around, Alessandrini has penned (albeit loosely) a plot that charts Miranda’s rise from his early life in Inwood, Manhattan, the dark horse success of In the Heights, and his subsequent Broadway takeover with Hamilton. And in true Forbidden Broadway fashion, there are plenty of cameo impersonations along the way.
Alessandrini is dancing with the devil with Spamilton, tasked with re-writing material by a genius—literally—Miranda won a 2015 MacArthur Genius Grant. For the most part, his writing sticks to the wall:
A colony of theatre royalty
Meanwhile Broadway keeps shiftin’ on us endlessly
Essentially new shows stink relentlessly
They fill them with hot air and have a spending spree
Ev’ry thing is overblown condescendingly
So there will be a revolution in this century! Enter me!
Alessandrini positions Aaron Burr (as played by Leslie Odom Jr. as played by Chris Anthony Giles) as Miranda’s nemesis, encouraging him to forego innovation and stick with a familiar Broadway formula instead. Of course, we all know how that turns out. As Miranda, Dan Rosales is wiry and lythe, able to capture Miranda’s nasally bari-tenor and also turn legit when required.
The rest of the cast includes Nora Schell as all of the Schuyler sisters (with the help of some hand puppets), Nicholas Edwards (who captures Daveed Diggs to perfection), and Juwan Crawley, who possesses a piercing tenor voice that reverberates through the rafters. The young cast is high on energy, and while all of impersonations may not resonate (Schell’s quick changes as J Lo, Beyoncé and Gloria Estefan fall flat but her Barbra Streisand is gorgeous, darling), there’s plenty there to keep the laughs coming for the show’s 75-minute duration.
Alessandrini’s script works best when it sticks close to the Hamilton source material. Several homages to Sondheim (“Children Won’t Listen,” “Broadway Assassins”) drag down the show’s pace, though special guest appearances by Christine Pedi (a Forbidden Broadway veteran) as Bernadette Peters and Liza Minnelli begging for tickets prove that the Forbidden Broadway formula is alive and kicking.
Spamilton is great fun for those obsessed with the musical of the century, and if you’re familiar with the score and the show’s original cast, you’ll likely want to be “in the room where it happens.”