By Sarah A. Spitz
GIVING THANKS FOR SPAMILTON
Need a laugh? Head to the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City for Spamilton. It’s a both tribute to, and roast of, the creator of Hamilton, as well as a meta-commentary on Broadway musicals.
As clever and speedy as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rapping rhymes are, Spamilton keeps up the pace, the patter and the plot twists around Miranda’s success and the deadening corporatization (read: Disney-fication) of New York’s Great White Way.
Whether you’ve seen Hamilton or not, if you’re a fan of musicals Spamilton will have you in stitches from the second the curtain rises. What a cast! What remarkable singers and dancers!
What a super-intelligent mash-up and parody! Amazing that just five performers and two special guests can take on all the roles featured in Hamilton…and many other musicals, to boot, while maintaining the through line of the Spamilton story.
Without giving away too much, because the rhythms and rhymes are just so clever, the play is about how Lin-Manuel Miranda has revolutionized and radicalized what a Broadway musical can be, and how celebrity has affected him.
BROADWAY ON STEROIDS
Even more amazing—because I believe that Hamilton is a work of genius—Gerard Alessandrini, the creator of “Spamilton,” who also created “Forbidden Broadway” (the super-spoof of all things musical), is a lyrical and stylistic wizard, encapsulating the core essence of every musical he touches on here.
You’ll hear traces of and inside jokes about West Side Story, Gypsy, Chicago, Cats, countless Sondheim scores, Man of La Mancha, Camelot…and so much more.
Maintaining the skeleton of Hamilton’s story arc but superimposing it on Lin-Manuel’s success, Spamilton sends up multiple musicals and stage stars, and there’s a stretch on Sondheim that is so word-filled and funny it’s hard to imagine how the singers can catch their breath;
I know I couldn’t! But it’s so smart: it never occurred to me how close a thread ties Sondheim’s swift, cerebral vocabulary-laden lyrics to Miranda’s brilliant history-based rap songs.
Last week I mentioned two things that stood out to me about Hamilton: Thomas Jefferson’s wild and wiggy ’fro, and King George’s pop-py tune “You’ll Be Back,” and these two are hilariously sent up in “Spamilton.”
As it happens, Glenn Bassett, who played King George in the original off-Broadway Hamilton, is back as a special guest, spoofing that catchy little ditty, the one I left the Pantages humming.
The song here is about the song itself, acknowledging its Beatles-like, 60s British pop invasion cuteness, but also gay-ly dishing on how Miranda is making musicals “straight again.”
In Hamilton, Jefferson and Lafayette are played by the same actor; in New York, Daveed Diggs made these swaggering roles standouts on stage (and won a Tony for his performances). Here the wig is satirized, and Diggs teased, as that big floppy ’fro gets its own star turn.
Spamilton’s punny rhymes are so fast and furious it’s almost hard to keep up with them. “Rise Up” turns into “Thighs Up”; “In the Room Where It Happens” hilariously morphs into “I want to be in the film when it happens,” featuring a cameo by “Barbra Streisand.”
And who knew how much parodic poesy could be packed into “Aaron Burr, Sir”— here remade as “Aaron Burr, Sir, Nervous-er.” Example: “How can we make better musicals occur, sir, it’s all a blur, sir,” and “Be terser, in your verse sir, you’re no Johnny Mercer,” and turning Burr’s advice to Hamilton from “Smile more, talk less” into “Smile more, rhyme less.”
Every member of this cast is outstanding: Zakiya Young plays all three Schuyler sisters, two of them as puppets (shades of Avenue Q), plus Beyonce and Gloria Estafan, who want to create million-record-selling duets with Miranda. Guest Susanne Blakeslee kills as Liza Minnelli, Streisand, Gloria Swanson and more.
John Devereaux does dynamic duty as the wiggy Jefferson and Frenchy Lafayette; Wilkie Ferguson pointedly piles on all the resentment that Aaron Burr bears, and Dedrick A. Bonner absolutely wins the night as Ben Franklin channeling Sondheim and as little orphan Annie…yes, really.
William Cooper Howell is terrific as Miranda, and I can’t forget to thank pianist and music director James Lent for holding this whole thing together.
My sides still hurt from laughing. Yours will too. There are some special events around Spamilton that you may want to take advantage of. Starting on Friday, Nov. 17, the theatre will host karaoke following every Friday night performance, focusing on Hamilton but offering an array of Broadway classics along with free snacks and a cash bar. And on December 17, there’s a “Sunday Fun-Day” brunch and matinee.
It’s no surprise that Spamilton was extended through January 7, 2018 but like the original, it’s a hit and a phenomenon, folks, so don’t hesitate!! Get tickets ASAP at www.centergrouptheatre.org.
And here’s an early “heads-up.” Another play that changed Broadway, “Hair”—the American Tribal Love-rock Musical—returns for a 50th anniversary production in April, at the newly renovated Palace Theatre in Downtown LA.
Michael Arabian directs, and the book is being revised by original writer/lyricist James Rado (collaborator Jerome Ragni has since passed away). The music remains unchanged. Details to come as they emerge.
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.
FOR THE WEB ONLY:
SUGGESTED SEO: Spamilton offers a smart take on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phenomenon Hamilton, and succeeds brilliantly spoofing it at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
SUGGESTED TAGS: Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hair, The Palace Theatre, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, James Rado, Jerome Ragni, Gerard Alessandrini, Broadway musicals, Michael Arabian, William Cooper Howell, Dedrick A. Bonner, Wilkie Ferguson, Ben Franklin, Stephen Sondheim, Cats, Chicago, West Side Story, Man of La Mancha, Camelot, Annie, Zakiya Young, Susanne Blakeslee, John Devereaux, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, Beyonce, Gloria Estafan
Sarah Spitz, KCRW Producer/Publicity Director (retired)
“Culture Watch” columnist, Santa Monica Daily Press (active) http://www.smdp.com/category/life/culture-watch
UCCE LA County Certified Master Gardener (2006-active); Certified Master Food Preserver (2011-2014)
Food Forward Advisory Council Member, www.foodforward.org
Slow Food LA Food Preservation Advisor http://sfpla.org; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SFPLAB/?fref=ts
CERT (Community Emergency Response Team 10) Santa Monica volunteer