The new smash hit revue at the Triad is really entitled to a different title.
One can understand why Gerard Alessandrini of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY fame called it SPAMILTON. Why not honor – and cash in – on Broadway’s biggest-ever hit?
Face it: HAMILTON is indeed the biggest thing Broadway has ever known. Doesn’t it always make the daily news — or, to be more accurate, the Times on a daily basis? And don’t think that Alessandrini doesn’t mention that in his sensational 80-minute send-up.
However, this romp isn’t merely all-HAMILTON, all-the-time. There are references to two dozen other Tony-winning musicals and quite a few runners-up, too. So this show (written and directed by a Tony-honoree himself) should actually be called FORBIDDEN BROADWAY GOES TO HAMILTON – AND BEYOND.
As always, Alessandrini uses the actual music that graced musicals both past (INTO THE WOODS) and present (ALADDIN) and puts his own lyrical spin on them. He also mentions short-lived shows, tucking in a TUCK EVERLASTING reference as well as a nod to a musical that’s yet to get here: WAR PAINT.
So there’s no question that Alessandrini fully expects that his audience has, if not an encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway of yore, at least a Wikipedic one, right down to “I Ain’t Down Yet” from THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN. Most of the songs are easily recognized, but even some savvy Broadwayites may not be familiar with “Down with Love” from the 1937 musical HOORAY FOR WHAT? However, the way Alessandrini has handled it – and his bringing in a Surprise Guest Star who’s a beloved member of the theatrical community to warble it – makes it an evening highlight.
Old-timers often complain that young ‘uns don’t know who Gene Kelly is, but Alessandrini mentions him without any fear that his audience won’t place the name. Fine — but William Ivey Long, too? If Long ever attends SPAMILTON (and you should, sir, for you’ll have as great a time as everyone else), I suspect that even he would be surprised that his non-household name shows up in a lyric.
A bigger shock, however, is that Julie Taymor is mentioned but not in conjunction with SPIDER-MAN. Aren’t she and that mega-bomb ripe for spoofing … or, on second thought, are they over-ripe? Perhaps Alessandrini was smart to let them off the hook.
About 40% of the show does specifically center on HAMILTON. Alessandrini is not throwing away his shot to shoot down the smash hit into a more perfect reality. He takes HAMILTON auteur Lin-Manuel Miranda to task for using imperfect rhymes – such as matching plural nouns with singular ones and “m’s” with “n’s.” “These are the rhymes that try men’s souls,” Alessandrini wittily notes, accusing Miranda of being “no Johnny Mercer.” One must not only wonder if the audience remembers who that is, but also if it understands the concept of perfect rhymes or cares a whit about them.
Alessandrini takes us on Miranda’s journey from the moment he thought “I have a dream” for a brand-new Broadway show. “I’m not going to let Broadway rot,” he insists for he intends “to raise up the bar” on musicals. The implication that marijuana was used in writing HAMILTON may initially shock, but it doesn’t quite stem from nothing; the songwriter did indeed once write a mini-musical about the drug. Some Miranda admirers might prefer that this not be mentioned, but may react with more umbrage still when they hear Alessandrini refer to HAMILTON as “Broadway show pollution.”
And millions of Miranda admirers there are, given that HAMILTON has crossed over into the mainstream and has even spawned that rarity of rarities: a best-selling original cast album. Now non-theatergoers who don’t know HELLO, DOLLY! from HELLO, AGAIN get and appreciate every reference. Even the light blue revolutionary war-era costume that Miranda wore in the show receives recognition laughter and applause.
So there’s an odd benefit from all this. People who can’t see HAMILTON because of prices that are high as an elephant’s forehead will be able to go to a theater and at least hear some of the melodies they love. Ticket scarcity, by the way, is spoofed in a clever bit that comes from a very logical Sondheim character.
Adding to the fun is that the actors greatly resemble the stars of HAMILTON down to Daveed Diggs’ voluminous hair. The four men and one woman do exhaustively yeoman (and yeowoman) work. Juwan Crawley (“Raise a Glass to Broadway”), Nicholas Edwards (“What Did You Miss?”), Chris Anthony Giles (“The Film Where It Happens”), Dan Rosales (“His Shot”) and Nora Schell (“Un-Satisfied”) all sing well and hit the jokes to get the maximum laughter out of them.
Another Special Guest Star got HAMITLON’s most toe-tapping tune: “You’ll Be Back.” After he finished the verse, he paused for quite a few seconds, allowing for a tightrope-walker-like tension as we all wondered what Alessandrini would choose as his alternate lyrics. The roar of laughter greeting the three replacement words for “You’ll Be Back” didn’t disappoint. And when The Special Guest Star eventually cried out “Everybody!” for a sing-along, few if any in the house didn’t already know the melody.
Alessandrini gets in a good joke about musical theater’s Most Valuable Costume — the red dress worn in various shades by Dolly, Desiree, Cassie, Annie, OLIVER’s Nancy, the aforementioned Molly Brown and plenty of others. He also editorializes that Ben Brantley may have been premature when coronating THE BOOK OF MORMON as “The Best Musical of the Century,” given that there were – to paraphrase a lyric from a different musical that Alessandrini also cites – 89 years to go.
And because 89 years may well be how long HAMILTON will be with us, SPAMILTON should be happily with us for quite a while, too. Despite a nicely sentimental ending, theatergoers get all the slings and arrows of outrageous Gerard Alessandrini. Considering all he has to say and grouse about Broadway, he actually comes across as a de facto theater critic. But of course for decades now he’s shown that he has too much talent to merely settle for that job.