Reviewed by Lyle Zimskind
Kirk Douglas Theatre
Through January 7
Gerard Alessandrini has been writing and directing the Forbidden Broadway quasi-annual series of satirical musical revues since the early 1980s, before Broadway was a global tourist attraction. His plays lampoon whatever productions are running at the time, as well as New York theater culture in general. Now that Hamilton has become the first original Broadway hit in half a century or so to gain popularity and recognition outside of theatergoing circles, Alessandrini has created a new full-length show specifically targeting Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cultural phenomenon.
Spamilton (what else could you call it?) outfits its five principal performers in Hamilton-like costumes and hairstyles and features unstoppably clever parodies of about twenty songs from the original, plus a few additional numbers. Whereas Hamilton chronicles the relentless drive and rise to power of its title Founding Father and celebrates his policies’ enduring influence, Spamilton chronicles the rise to celebrity and relentless popularity of “L-I-N-M-A-N-U-E-L” — cracking wise at Hamilton’s pervasive influence (“I Am Not Going to Let Broadway Rot,” for instance, to the tune and rhythm of “My Shot”).
The more familiar you are with the original show (even if only from the soundtrack album), the more you’ll appreciate the brilliant intricacies of Alessandrini’s parodies. The more acquainted you are with Broadway musicals, the more you’ll appreciate his well-founded digs at Hamilton’s unique position in the New York theater firmament.
Conversely, the wit in Spamilton lyrics like “Aaron, Burr, Sir, Nervous-er” may not resonate at all with someone who’s never had Hamilton’s “Aaron Burr” looping in their head. An encounter between Miranda-as-Hamilton and Stephen Sondheim-as-Ben Franklin is likewise smartly on point if you know a few Sondheim songs, but some of the humor might pass you by if not.
Our own favorite bits included the Odom Jr. character’s passionate but frustratingly futile assertion that he “wants to be in the film when it happens”; George III (Glenn Bassett)’s “Straight is Back,” with its own concluding audience singalong; and the part of the mock-finale “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Cries” when Eliza pulls out her secret weapon after challenging the audience not to start crying one more time. Another good number, “One Big Song” (sung to the tune of “One Last Time”) — which features “George Washington” asking Hamilton-Miranda to write him a showstopper in the vein of Moana —has been added with this Los Angeles production.
A musical revue can easily fall flat without a strong committed ensemble or be drained of savvy energy once the original actors have gone. That’s not a concern here, however, as the five principal performers — Dedrick A. Bonner, John Devereaux, Wilkie Ferguson III, William Cooper Howell and Zakiya Young — are all fantastic, hilariously embodying the original performers while hitting the mark on all the jokes. The same holds true for several supporting players. It’s hard to imagine the New York cast was any better.
Still, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this show may be more at home in New York. L.A. isn’t Broadway, however many productions pass through town before or after their Times Square-adjacent premieres. Other than the specific lampoons of Hamilton, which will greatly appeal to fans of the show, the broader cultural references and barbs, smart as they are, address the foibles of a theater community operating at a significant remove from (and occasionally at odds with) our own scene.
But it’s a riot nonetheless.
Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 and 6:30 p.m. centertheatregroup.org/tickets/kirk-douglas-theatre/2017-18-season/spamilton. Running time: 80 minutes.