Off Broadway Reviews
Spamilton, the little spoof that could, reopened last night, relocated from the Upper West Side to its new home at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, just a little over a block from the Richard Rodgers Theatre and Hamilton, the phenomenon it parodies. Spamilton arrives in great shape, and with the godfather of theatrical spoofery, Gerard Alessandrini, at its helm, the revue remains a fresh and sassy defiance of the kind of short shelf life captured in playwright George S. Kaufman's famous observation that "satire is what closes on Saturday night."
One of the reasons the show continues to provoke contented smiles and satisfying laughter is that it is at least as much a tribute to the world of musical theater as it is a satire of the form. While there are plenty of in-jokes to please the in-crowd, you don't need a Ph.D. in theater lore to have a great time. If you arrive early, even on a grump-inducing nasty rainy night like last night, you'll be pulled into the proper mood through the pre-performance recorded music from Man of La Mancha, West Side Story, Camelot, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, all of which will later be referenced. If you listen carefully, you might even pick up the comic political reference from Li'l Abner. The country's in the very best of hands, as is the audience. Who could resist?
Another reason Spamilton is likely to retain its sparkle lies in the fact that Alessandrini, the mastermind behind the iconic Forbidden Broadway franchise, is a consummate tinkerer. The move to midtown includes enough new material and revisions to its original production (not to mention the lack of a two-drink minimum requirement as there was uptown) to make it well worth a revisit. There are sly digs at the recent productions of Sunset Boulevard, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Anastasia, and a nice bit about Hello, Dolly regarding the "ticket sales wars" between it and Hamilton. And even the old familiar stalwarts (Annie and Liza Minnelli) have been reworked so that they are a bitter fit with the show's overall theme.
That's the other thing. While Spamilton is ostensibly a takeoff of Hamilton, it's really more about Hamilton's creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and his mission: "I am not gonna let Broadway rot." This allows Alessandrini to drew from Miranda's music and rapid-fire rap style to comment wryly on the superstar phenomenon that is Miranda, as well as the creative process of writing for Broadway, such as when the character of Aaron Burr advises: "Be terser in your verse, sir. You're no Johnny Mercer." There's are also some funny lines about the difficulty audience members might be having in following the speedy outpouring of words ("Another 100 syllables came out of my mouth.") This variation on a song from Stephen Sondheim's Company is just one of many loving bows to the man the show refers to as the Yoda of Broadway.
Of the cast members, two have been with the show from the start. Dan Rosales as Lin-Manuel Miranda/Hamilton and Chris Anthony Giles as Leslie Odom Jr./Aaron Burr have polished their roles to a gleam. Mr. Rosales, especially, makes the most of Gerry McIntyre's choreography, showing he's got both the moves and great comic chops through his dancing. Newcomer Nicole Vanessa Ortiz, playing all three Schuler sisters, is a terrific belter. Rounding out the cast are the equally excellent Tristan J. Shuler and Aaron Michael Ray. Last night's "guest diva" was Christine ("Liza," "Barbra") Pedi, and Glenn Bassett did a splendid turn as King George, commenting on the notion that "Straight Is Back," thanks to the macho men of Hamilton. The terrific piano work that keeps things zipping along musically is in the accomplished hands of Fred Barton. As members of the audience, all we need to do is just what is asked of us: relax, enjoy, and join the cast members when they urge us to "raise a glass to Broadway."