For little more than an hour, Spamilton, an attention-deficit musical travesty, never lets up until we’re let out. Exploding with relentless volleys of unfriendly fire, it bombards us with “in” jokes and manufactured outrage over New York City’s less than Great White Way. With the crowd packed to bursting in the studio in Chicago’s Royal George Theatre (it used to be a comfortable cabaret with tables), coping with lousy sight lines and over-amped sound, this new offering from Gerard Alessandrini, creator of the formerly fun Forbidden Broadway franchise, is more ordeal than entertainment.
The title notwithstanding, Gerard Alessandrini’s one-act musical satire doesn’t spoof the show itself. That would involve actually critiquing content (where the musical would seem especially vulnerable). No, writer/creator/ director G.A. is obsessed with style and surface. He uses Lin-Manuel Miranda’s megahit as an excuse to take potshots at today’s subpar Broadway. (Yes, for G.A., since the last millennium there’s trouble on Times Square and we’re not talking pool tables.)
G.A. hews faithfully to a previously flawless formula: Buttressed by Adam LaSalle on piano, he indulges a deft five-member cast in rapid-fire costume changes, cute prop switches, name-dropping hilarity, and sight gags galore. Donterrio Johnson, Michelle Lato, Eric Andrew Lewis, Yando Lopez, and David Robbins erupt in patented sarcasm—celebrity impersonations, patter songs repurposed from other shows, and hit-and-run (hit-and-miss mostly) banter that range from gossip-column tabloid tidbits to updated topicality (like the ghastly envelope snafu that finished this year’s Oscars). As Spamelot pilloried the Arthurian legends, Spamilton roasts a sacred cow, the results mostly medium, never well done. After half of its 80-minute running time, the equal-opportunity ridicule wears perilously thin.
Weirdly framed as a dream the Obamas have after seeing Hamilton, Spamilton equates Miranda with his immigrant hero Alexander Hamilton. We get insider references to his supposedly unearned fame, his imagined collaboration with Stephen Sondheim (who, of course, gets unjust knocks for his scansion and subtleties), and empty speculation about the film version—which Lauto’s heavy-handed Barbra Streisand wants to turn into a return vehicle. (Lauto dons even more prosthetics to ape Liza Minnelli condemning rapping musicals and demanding melodies that we can hum on our way home. We also get flagrant approximations of Beyoncé, Gloria Estefan, Idina Menzel—the usual suspects.)
Unlike the better editions of Forbidden Broadway, G.A.’s latest suffers from a manic channel-switching distractability more suited to a hand-held device than a solid parody. The desperate jesting is all over the theatrical map—no running jokes, no evolving critique, just a free-associating barrage of put-downs at Miranda and company for thinking they can reform the Broadway musical by reducing it to rhythm without rhyme. (As for G.A.’s attempts to imitate hip hop cadences, that department is better left to the Q Brothers.)
To “get” Spamilton, it helps to have seen every show in midtown Manhattan between the Hudson and East rivers, memorized the casts, and read the reviews—and even then you’ll want footnotes. Admittedly, Yando Lopez has fun with his meltdown Miranda, a smooth operator and political corrector who, G.A. implies, is all ambition and no vision. LaSalle soberly intones an absurd protest song that pretends to regret how Broadway is going straight, as if Hamilton’s being heterosexual is death to lavender. The other zanies deliver instant impersonations that, far from outstaying their welcome, seldom justify their gratuitous slams.
No question, Spamilton was catnip to a hellishly hooting opening-night claque for whom every wig change was a license to guffaw, chortle, titter and bleat. It’s too bad that their forced frenzy won’t be around to console disappointed audience members paying whopping prices ($59-$99) for a snapshot of scattershot silliness. When the New York Post called this “the next best thing to seeing Hamilton,” it is clear that Spamilton has become its own dramatic irony. Suddenly we sense what the real mockery should have been: Apples are oranges after all.
The finale disingenuously toasts the glories of Broadway, like a murderer who misses his victim. It’s gratingly phony since everything we see on this frenzied stage makes the Big Apple a poisoned fruit from Snow White’s mirror-crazed wicked queen. Bite at your peril.
photos by Michael Brosilow
Royal George Theatre’s Cabaret/Studio Theatre
1641 N Halsted St
Tues-Fri at 7:30; Sat at 5 & 8; Sun at 2 & 5
for tickets, call 312.988.9000 or visit Royal George