SPAMILTON: AN AMERICAN PARODY

Imagine you’ve spent the past three-and-a-half decades spoofing New York’s buzz-worthiest musicals but this year there’s one megasmash that dwarfs the competition like no musical ever has before. If you’re Gerard Alessandrini, you write Forbidden Broadway 2017 and call it Spamilton, eighty minutes of Broadway satire at its funniest, cleverest, and most tuneful now getting its West Coast Premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Though its full title Spamilton: An American Parody might suggest a plot-based spoof of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-sweeping retelling of the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton … it’s not.

What Spamilton spoofs is Hamilton the phenomenon, more specifically how “a whippersnapper student of rap” transformed Broadway with a revolutionary mix of history and hip-hop peopled almost entirely by performers of color.

Whether it’s parodies like “Lin-Manuel As Hamilton,” “His Shot,” or “Look Around (The Schuyler Puppets),” Spamilton once again shows off creator-writer-director Alessandrini’s talent for tweaking original lyrics with a brilliance honed over decades.

Lin-Manuel as Hamilton may have declared his intention not to give up his “shot,” but “Lin-Manuel As Hamilton” (William Cooper Howell at the Kirk Douglas) proudly proclaims, “I am not gonna let Broadway rot. I am just like a savior with Beyoncé behavior, and I love being a hot big shot.”

And when Zakiya Young and a pair of Avenue Q-ready hand puppets show up as “Schuyler Sisters” Renée Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, and Jasmine Cephas Jones while bemoaning Broadway’s current state, expect to hear “how yucky shows all are mashing up right now” as the sisters imagine mashups like “The Lion King And I,” “Avenue Crucible,” and more.

In other words, it’s not only Hamilton that Spamilton spoofs.

Following Don Quixote’s example, Lin-Manuel has his own quest to fulfill, i.e. “to murder Matilda, to bury Bright Star.” “Ben Franklin, Sondheim & Lin-Manuel” features riffs on some of Stephen Sondheim’s Greatest Hits. The Unsinkable Molly Brown, 1776, The Music Man, and Cats all get their mention as well. And lastly, it wouldn’t be a Lin-Manuel Mirada spoof without musical mention of the show that made him a Broadway household name in “In The Hype.”

Hamilton stars Leslie Odom (Wilkie Ferguson III) and Daveed Diggs (John Devereaux) make appearances as well, with Dedrick A. Bonner completing the principal cast as (among others) Ben Franklin and a Little Orphan who provokes the evening’s longest sustained laugh.

Glenn Bassett reprises his off-Broadway cameo as a foppish King George III with a royal proclamation that “Straight is back, time will tell, Kinky Boots is going straight to hell,” and Forbidden Broadway super-vet Susanne Blakeslee steals every scene she’s in, first as Ticket Beggar Woman, crying out not as Sweeney Todd’s did for alms but for “tickets … for a miserable woman, I need Hamilton tickets, badly,” and later (as a certain Oscar-Emmy-Tony winner) in the chorus-boy-backed showstopper “Liza’s Down With Rap.”

If it’s not already clear, those not versed in Hamilton: An American Musical may find much of Spamilton: An American Parody whooshing over their heads, and even millennials who’ve won the Pantages lottery multiple times may be clueless whenever anything pre-Hamilton gets referenced.

That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t plenty to cheer about even if the first question that pops into your head when someone tells you they’ve seen Hamilton is “Hamilton who?”

Music supervisor Fred Barton’s arrangements are as melodious as arrangements get, from the girl group harmonies of “Look Around” to the operetta-ready “Straight Is Back” to the jazzy beats of “What Did You Miss,” and just wait till Young gets to become not one or two but three pop superstars in “Lin-Manuel & J-Lo, Beyoncé & Gloria Estefan” (to the tunes of Hamilton’s “Non-Stop” and “Take A Break”).

Performances on the Kirk Douglas stage could not be more sensational, beginning with Howell, fresh from playing Usnavi at Moonlight Stages and more than ready to take on the real Hamilton either on Broadway or on tour.

Devereaux’s sexy shaggy-haired Daveed Diggs as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, Ferguson’s dynamic, big-biceped Leslie Odom as Aaron Burr, and Bonner’s towering Ben Franklin et al are equally fabulous, and Young is a statuesque stunner in at least ten different roles.

Bassett’s single song is a delectable (if decidedly not straight) treat, and the one-and-only Blakeslee mimics Broadway’s greatest leading ladies to perfection. (Just wait till Barbra arrives to hand out the Best Musical Tony while making plans to star in “The Film When It Happens.”)

Gerry McIntyre’s choreography, Dustin Cross’s costumes, Karyn D. Lawrence’s lighting, and Adam Phalen’s sound design would do Hamilton (or any Broadway musical you could name) proud, Bassett’s set and props are a delight, and musical director-accompanist James Lent misses not a beat or note from start to finish.

Brooke Baldwin is production stage manager and Maggie Swing is stage manager. Lindsay Allbaugh is associate producer. Additional arrangements are by Richard Danley.

Casting (out of Los Angeles) is by Andrew Lynford, CSA. Understudies Becca Brown and Elijah Reyes are poised to play any part at a moment’s notice.

Lin-Manuel Miranda himself is quoted as having “laughed [his] brains out” at Spamilton and no wonder. Spamilton: An American Parody is every bit hilarious as each and every Forbidden Broadway before it, and even more so for those in the Hamilton know.

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Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Through January 7. Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00. Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00. Sundays at 1:00 and 6:30. Reservations: 213 628-277        2
www.centertheatregroup.org

–Steven Stanley
November 12, 2017
Photos: Craig Schwartz

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