It takes a deep love of a subject to parody it successfully, and Gerard Alessandrini, creator of Spamilton: an American Parody as well as the previous hit sendup Forbidden Broadway, clearly loves Broadway musicals. If you’ve seen Forbidden Broadway, Spamilton’s setup will be familiar – one piano, small cast playing multiple parts, and nonstop spoofing of the tunes, characters, and plots from current (and past) Broadway musicals. And although, as the title and visual branding make clear, the focus of the satire here is on Hamilton, as with Forbidden Broadway Alessandrini grinds the entire industry of musical theatre through his mockery machine.
The loose plot centers on the efforts of “Lin-Manuel Miranda” (T.J. Newton, oddly a dead ringer for the real guy) to shake up Broadway with his new style of musical. He recruits actors “Leslie Odom, Jr.” (Tru Verret-Fleming), “Daveed Diggs” (LaTrea Rembert), the guy who plays George Washington (Justin Lonesome), and a Leading Lady to play all three sisters (the fabulous Erin Ramirez). Dressed in signature Hamilton base costumes – tight white pants, cream-colored vests, shiny knee-high boots, a doo-rag for Washington and big hair for Diggs – the fantastically gifted ensemble busts out many of the signature dance moves from the show as well, but with enough exaggeration and comment to render them a little silly (the choreography, by director Gerry McIntyre, gets the balance between imitation and mockery just right). A prime target for Alessandrini’s satire is the crazy popularity and obscene success of Hamilton, reaching its apotheosis in the song “I wanna be in the film when it happens,” which imagines a slew of (nearly all white) Hollywood stars vying for the chance to board the Hamilton gravy train. Miranda’s success in getting a role on Mary Poppins also gets skewered, à la “Mickey Mouse has his eyes on me.” Even Hamilton’s branding gets roped into the parody, with the trademark star prominently displayed on the back pockets of the ensemble’s pants.
Music director Fred Barton has shaped the myriad styles of music from the range of shows featured with precision and clarity. Pianist Nick Stamatakis plays through the demanding score with flair, and at one point even has a surprise solo number that brings down the house (I won’t spoil it for you). The five members of the ensemble are all so good they probably ought to be cast in Hamilton itself, and they bring the right combination of sheer talent and self-aware mockery to the task of sending it up. Verret-Fleming, Lonesome, Newton, and Rembert are already familiar to Pittsburgh audiences, and they shine here as vocalists, actors, and dancers as they have in previous productions; Rembert, in particular, steps into his own in this show, with a confident and charismatic turn as “Daveed Diggs.” As the only woman in the cast – a joke in its own right, given the gender politics of Hamilton – newcomer Ramirez takes on more roles than any one else in the ensemble, and her vocal flexibility is extraordinary. In addition to switching back and forth between the vocal stylings of Renee Goldsberry, Philippa Soo, and Jasmine Jones all in the same song – with puppets, no less (“Look Around”) – she also gives credible impersonations of Bernadette Peters, Liza Minelli, Julie Andrews, and Barbra Streisand. Yes, it’s that kind of parody.
Honestly, dear Reader, I’m trying to remember the last time I laughed as exuberantly in the theatre as I did at Spamilton. Alessandrini is an astute observer of the foibles and flaws of the commercial theatre industry, and he has a genius for weaving those observations into lyrics that surprise and delight. Particularly hilarious are his criticisms of Hamilton itself, encapsulated in lines like “The lyrics go by so fast and you’re in the abyss/ Can you believe you paid eight hundred bucks for this?” or in the moment when Ramirez steps out as “Eliza” and sings, in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Cries,” how she will “make you cry!…just when you think I can’t rinse more tears out of you, I’ll tell you about…the orphanage.”
Spamilton also nails a slew of other Broadway musicals, including (but in no way limited to) Book of Mormon, Wicked, The King and I, The Lion King, Willy Wonka, Harry Potter, Phantom of the Opera, Alladin, and a whole medley’s worth of Sondheim musicals (the extended dig at Sondheim’s music may have been my favorite moment in the show). It’s all a little dizzying to remember; the show clicks along about as fast as Hamilton itself, and much of the fun lies in the way it chews up and spits out new musical victims as it barrels along. At seventy minutes, it’s exactly the length it needs to be, although – and this is such a rarity – at the point where it appeared to be coming to a close with “Eliza’s” final number, I was having so much fun that I really didn’t want it to end.