Perhaps it was inevitable that Gerard Alessandrini, the creator of many seasons of Forbidden Broadway, would be lured back by the possibilities of the phenomenon of Hamilton. Having put the long-running satirical revue on hiatus in 2014 (after Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging), Alessandrini has devised a terrific new show, Spamilton, at the Triad. Structured around Lin-Manuel Miranda’s runaway hit, the show features a stronger through-line than Alessandrini usually fashions to encompass the revue elements. For lovers of musical theater, Forbidden Broadway, and Hamilton, Spamilton provides a raucous goulash of mostly on-target barbs, yet it is also in the Forbidden Broadway mold, with “appearances” by stars such as Bernadette Peters, J. Lo, Beyoncé, and, inevitably, Liza Minnelli. Most important, fans can rejoice that Alessandrini is back at the top of his game. And the targets are not just Hamilton the musical, but the art form itself, the actors in Hamilton, and anything currently on Broadway.
The revue, written and directed by Alessandrini, takes the form of a fantasia. Inspired by the Kennedys and their love of the musical, Camelot, which Jackie said she played each night at bedtime, he imagines the Obamas turning in, with the President (Chris Anthony Giles) putting on a vinyl of Hamilton. Then Alessandrini lets loose. Part biography, part parody, the show details Miranda’s upbringing, his love of musicals, and his determination to build a better Broadway musical, in a clever rap that upends the expectation of traditionalism from him:
This blue collar shining beacon/Puerto Rican/Got a lot farther/By being a lot smarter/By stretching rhymes harder/By being a trend-starter.
Lurking beneath the flattery of “trend-starter,” though, is Alessandrini’s deep skepticism about rap as a medium for shows. Later in the revue, to the tune of “Children Will Listen,” from Into the Woods, he writes:
"Careful the rap you play/No one will listen/Careful how dense the phrase/ People will leave/Or heave."
“Children like rap today/But children don’t listen/Parents may lavish praise/But they could deceive/So take it from me/Careful the rap you say/ Incessantly/No one will listen."
Yet the canny creator also realizes that Miranda didn’t come out of nowhere. He has been influenced by Sondheim, whose genius has spawned inferior work from countless lesser talents. To the music of “Another Hundred People,” from Company, Sondheim gets his share of blame:
“Another hundred syllables came out of my mouth/And fell onto the ground/While another hundred syllables are gonna go south/And are sticking around/As another hundred syllables repeat the refrain/And are waiting for us/In the second quatrain/And I’m starting to cuss/Ev’ry word I say.”
“It’s a lyric by Sondheim/All you can eat word buffet/A lyric by Sondheim/ Too hard to sing, or to play/And ev’ry day/Some say, ‘No way…’”
Nora Schell, a powerhouse singer, delivers the Sondheim parody with panache, and she plays Michelle Obama and most of the other women’s roles. Gina Kreiezmar appears as a guest diva to play a beggar woman trying to cadge tickets to Hamilton, to the tune of the Beggar Woman’s “No Place Like London” in Sweeney Todd, and as Liza Minnelli she sings, to the tune of “Down With Love,” “Down With Rap”: “Down with rap and all of the hip-hop trends/Down with rap and all of the rhymes it bends.”
Aficionados will have fun identifying the melodies and references, which include Camelot, of course, but also The Unsinkable Molly Brown, The Music Man, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, and non-theater music such as the theme from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And, thanks to Miranda’s good nature, Alessandrini has permission to use music from Hamilton itself, which he does effectively—skewering Barbra Streisand in all her narcissism and her Revolutionary garb at the Tony Awards, singing, to the music of Miranda’s big show-stopper, “I wanna be in the film when it happens, the film when it happens…”
Occasionally, Alessandrini’s swift segues may leave one confused, particularly at the appearance of an old man who missed something because he went to the bathroom. But Spamilton thrives on the energy of its cast of talented unknowns, who include Nicholas Edwards as a prancing Daveed Diggs in a volcanic wig (Diggs the actor is satirized in the number “Fresh Prince of Big Hair”) and Juwan Crawley, whose appearance in Dustin Cross’s costumes (as the genie in Aladdin and as a rather famous orphan) are the juiciest sight gags of the evening.
Whether or not you view Spamilton as a stopgap till you can score tickets to Hamilton, or as a exemplar of sharp-witted parody, Alessandrini’s show is chock-full of pleasures.
Spamilton plays through Dec. 31 at The Triad Theater. Tickets at $69 are selling quickly but are available for the popular show beginning Oct. 5. There is a two-drink minimum and cabaret seating. Performance times vary; for information and tickets, visit triadnyc.com.