When Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton mutated from a groundbreaking musical into a full-fledged international phenomenon, all us Gerard Alessandrini fans should have known the sly fellow would sooner or later get his hands on it. He has and calls it Spamilton--the title referencing, needless to say, to Spamalot and that built-in Spam zinger.
The new send-up is now at the Triad, where the early Forbidden Broadway editions played, and where it's likely to spend quite a while, perhaps enhanced by frustrated theatergoers unable to score (or afford) ducats to the real thing.
Since this is Alessndrini, you eager spoof-the-tuner fans, there are some worthy gems along the nose-thumbing way, and since this is Alessandrini after several decades of his Gerard-foolery, the results are mixed. There may even be a new wrinkle in the irony-crazed fellow's approach: a crucially misplaced satirical dig, about which more later.
We're all different when it comes to what tickles our funny bone first, but the one that got me surfaced in a sequence during which Miranda (Dan Rosales) acknowledges the influence of sometime mentor Stephen Sondheim and has Nora Schell, as Hamilton cast member (now no longer on the roster) Renée Elise Goldsberry chant, "Another hundred syllables came out of my mouth/And fell onto the ground." (For those momentarily uncertain of the origin, Alessandrini is having fun with "Another Hundred People," introduced by Pamela Myers in Company.)
Just before this thigh-slapper Alessandrini has Sondheim (Dewan Crawley) warn. a la "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods, "Careful the rap you play/No one will listen/Careful how dense the phrase/People will leave/Or heave." As he's done for years, he brings out Liza Minnelli (guesting Christine Pedi, whose Minnelli impersonation has been beautifully honed for some time now) to sing the reworked E. Y. Harburg-Harold Arlen "Down With Love" as "Down with rap and all of the hip-hop trends/Down with rap and all of the rhymes it bends." Also the "In the Hype" mock-ditty is hoot-worthy, as is Alessandrini's referring to Sondheim elsewhere as Broadway's Yoda.
I only wish that when he has Hamilton troupe members Leslie Odom, Jr. (Chris Anthony Giles), Daveed Diggs (Nicholas Edwards) and others speculate on the casting of the eventual film, he had followed their wondering about who would "be Burr" with the handy "Justin Bieber."
So there are sufficient bull's eyes in the souped-up score, but there are just as many that only hit the target's outer circles. No need to quote from them--or go on at any length about the witch-y ladies (mostly played by Pedi) who arrive bent over and begging tickets to Hamilton. Try as he might Alessandrini doesn't coax much humor from them at this late date for knocking Hamilton prices.
Buyers must beware of other Spamilton features as well--and it's not his introducing the revue as a shared fever dream by acknowledged Hamilton lovers Barack and Michelle Obama. That's cute, but suspecting that there may not be 70 minutes of material to squeeze from Miranda's masterpiece, Alessandrini uses the show as a new Forbidden Broadway op. He fares well enough with these, although his using The Book of Mormon opener "Hello" to suggest that the blockbuster is threatened with drastic box-office plummeting is stretching credulity.
There's an even bigger hold-the-iPhone gaffe throughout that Alessandrini attempts to undercut with an author-director's program note that goes, "It's best to keep in mind as you watch Spamilton that in no way is this an actual biography of Mr. Miranda." The preempting isn't enough, however, to dismiss Alessandrini's depiction of the truly gallant writer-actor as spurred on by unadulterated ambition to prove himself a Broadway giant at the expense of all other comers--and a money grubber, to kinky boot. There has to be another way to have fun with the now Midas-rich creator.
The yuge, er, huge saving graces throughout Spamilton are Alessandrini's direction and Gerry McIntyre's choreography. As with the Thomas Kail direction-Andy Blankenbuehler choreography for Hamilton, it's difficult to tell where the direction ends and the choreography starts. Also praise to pianist Fred Barton and the effervescent, indefatigable cast, for whom just changing the often hilarious Dustin Cross costumes must require high speed.
If this reviewer had to be pressed for the stand-out trouper: it's Schell. Tall, gorgeous and blessed with a belt that reaches New Jersey, she's the lucky one who gets the "Another Hundred People" poke. Then there's her late and surprising Barbra Streisand mimicking (that's "Streisand" with a soft "s"), wherein she also gives the laudable Pedi a run for her money.
Each of the four men performs on a lofty level, too. Aside from the wiry Rosales, who does join in larger numbers but mostly sticks impressively to his cunning, self-impressed Miranda, the others fill many roles and are the reason for all sorts of sight gags. Alessandrini ought to be backstage after the curtain call bowing to all of them for their mastering his and McIntyre's every big and little movement.
One last thing: Unless I missed it, there's no mention of Ron Chernow. Of course, there would be no musical (and no subsequent burlesque) without there having been an Alexander Hamilton in the first place. But more immediately, there would be no Hamilton had Miranda not read Chernow's Alexandeer Hamilton biography and seen its possibilities for him.
Not to worry. If Chernow attends Alessandrini's treatment and notices he's not ribbed, he can simply cry on his way to the bank with the millions he could never have dreamed would be coming his humble author's way.