Last May, San Antonians finally got a chance to be “in the room where it happens” when the national tour of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s mega-hit Hamilton: An American Musical
made its way to town. Using rap, hip-hop and R&B, Miranda re-tells the life story of America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. The musical won a Pulitzer Prize, eleven Tony awards and a Grammy, among many other plaudits. It spawned a PBS Documentary, a book, a mixtape of songs from Hamilton
performed by pop stars, cover articles in Rolling Stone
and Time Magazine
and a huge fan base that spans race, class and generational lines. In short, it is a cultural phenomenon.
Another sign that Hamilton
is firmly entrenched in the cultural consciousness is its inevitable satirization, which Gerard Alessandrini has helpfully provided in the form of Spamilton: An American Parody.
Anyone that considers themselves to be a #hamilfan, is obsessed with all things Miranda or finds themselves constantly referencing Hamilton
lyrics — see the first sentence of this article — should “rise up” and head to the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre, where the show opened last night for a two-week run.
Alessandrini has been lovingly spoofing musical theatre since 1982 in twenty-five editions of Forbidden Broadway
, a series of hysterical revues which mock everything from Rodgers & Hammerstein to Andrew Lloyd Webber. While Spamilton
focuses on Miranda and his cultural juggernaut, the entire musical theatre canon — including Annie
, Sweeney Todd
, The Lion King
and The King and I
among others — and all of its icons — Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters, Liza Minelli and Barbra Streisand, to name a few — are subject to Alessandrini’s sometimes scathing but always hilarious lyrical wit.
The evening opens with a reference to John and Jackie Kennedy, who supposedly listened to the cast album of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot
every night before falling asleep in the White House. In Spamilton
it’s 2015, and admitted #hamilfans, Barack and Michelle Obama tuck themselves in to bed to the sounds of the opening song on the Hamilton
cast album. What follows is 80 minutes of rapid-fire rapping, side-splitting satire and pointed commentary on the state of the American musical.
Using the music from Hamilton
, Alessandrini’s rewritten lyrics present a heightened version of Lin-Manuel Miranda — played to near perfection by T.J. Newton— a somewhat nerdy, musical theatre-loving writer who is fed up with the current spate of offerings on the Great White Way. After some guidance from Stephen Sondheim (as Ben Franklin, as Yoda — yes, you read that right), he decides to “not throw away his shot” and change the Disney-fied landscape of Broadway by writing a musical about — wait for it — American history!
The five-person cast are all standouts and each have their moment to shine. Jared Alexander is appropriately goofy in “Daveed Diggs — The Fresh Prince of Big Hair” and later as Daveed Diggs (as Thomas Jefferson), he provides much needed exposition in “What Did You Miss” — a parody of Jefferson’s song “What Did I Miss.” Datus Puryear, who has the strongest voice in a cast full of excellent singers, plays Leslie Odom, Jr. (as Aaron Burr) who, along with Marissa Hecker (in a less-than-stellar imitation of Barbra Streisand), begs to be not in the “Room Where it Happens” but rather in “The Film When It Happens.” While Hecker’s Streisand may be weak, her Liza Minnelli in “Liza’s ‘Down with Rap’” is spot-on and her performance as all three Schuyler sisters — with the help of two puppets — is one of the evening’s highlights.
The cast is accompanied by pianist and musical director Matthew Hougland, who, in “a message from the Queen,” abandons his piano to steal the show as King George, lamenting the end of campy “gay” musicals in a send up of “You’ll Be Back” titled “Straight is Back.”
Despite the occasionally lackluster execution, Gerry McIntyre's choreography paid perfect homage to Andy Blankenbuehler’s stylistic original Hamilton
choreography while also cleverly referencing Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins, among others. The jokes fly a mile a minute, but the relatively small audience at Tuesday’s opening seemed to catch almost every reference — although the Sondheim section fell a little flat — and were clearly enjoying themselves.
Ultimately, this musical isn’t for everyone. The casual Lin-Manuel Miranda or musical theatre fan will likely have a good time, even if they don’t get all of the references. For the Hamilton
aficionado and especially those #hamilfans who weren’t able to get a ticket to last year’s national tour, however, Spamilton: An American Parody
will move you to “Raise a Glass” to Hamilton
and to Broadway.
$69, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays through January 26, Charline McCombs Empire Theatre, 226 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 226-5700, majesticempire.com.
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