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Off Broadway Review: ‘Spamilton,’ The Musical Spoof of ‘Hamilton’

With:
Juwan Crawley, Chris Anthony Giles, Nicholas Edwards, Dan Rosales, Nora Schell.

Hip-hop, Broadway showtunes, Viennese waltzes — is there anything this guy can’t write ?  No, not “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, but Gerard Alessandrini, whose ingenious parody “Spamilton” simultaneously salutes and sends up Miranda and his signature musical.  Much is owed to the agile five-member cast of actor-singer-spoofers, but the big kudos go to “Forbidden Broadway” creator Alessandrini, who applies his formidable chops to this affectionate cartoon of all things Hamiltonian.

Savvy casting, an ear for musical motifs and an impeccable grasp of visual design go into the creation of a miniature “Hamilton” on the postage-stamp stage of the Triad. A couple of drinks enhance the illusion.

Like the original show, the pants are tight, the boots are shiny, the bosoms are uplifting and the vests show just enough chest to look manly. Switch-hitting as director/choreographer, Alessandrini assigns his performers signature moves that make each character look authentic, if ever-so-slightly goofy. Getting those physical details right lays the groundwork for the witty character impersonations to come.

Dan Rosales cuts a slight figure, and in a close-fitting wig with rat’s tail dangling coquettishly behind, he captures Miranda’s edgy neurotic energy — and slightly squeaky voice, as one of the lyrics rubs it in.  Nicholas Edwards sports a gigantic afro and a face-splitting smile that sets off Daveed Diggs’ high-stepping strut.  Chris Anthony Giles nails Leslie Odom, Jr., right between the eyes, and big, beautiful belter Nora Schell only needs a couple of puppets to play all three Schuyler Sisters.

As for the fifth cast member, 21-year-old Juwan Crawley, the kid pulls off a screamingly funny sight gag without cracking a smile. Let’s not forget that the creepy smile of a clown is never as funny as the manic grin of the certifiably insane — or the dutiful deadpan of a long-suffering actor.

In the same way that Miranda obsesses about Hamilton, this show obsesses about Miranda.  “He’s a theater icon / He’s half Hamilton / Half a can of cold Spam,” is Leslie Odom Jr.’s cruelly funny salute.  But he’s quick to add that “Broadway’s been less crappy / Since the happy day / You came.”

Song by song, Alessandrini picks apart the score and twists the lyrics by their tails.  “Who we spoofin’, man?” the Odom character asks groggily, after one dizzying sequence.  “Lin-Manuel as Hamilton!” he’s informed.

But while there’s some gentle ribbing at the top of the show (“Be terser in your verse, sir / You’re no Johnny Mercer”), Miranda and Alessandrini are kindred souls: They both love, love, love Broadway.  “I have a dream,” Miranda sings, saluting “Gypsy.”  “I’m gonna renew Broadway / I’ll mix old and new Broadway.”  And to the tune of “My Shot” he vows: “I am not gonna let Broadway rot!”

And lo, the focus of the show shifts into a mash-up of “Hamilton” with Broadway musicals past and present. “Look around, look around,” the three Schuyler Sisters alert us, in the irresistible person of the dynamic Nora Schell. “At how yucky shows all / Are mashing up right now.”

Which is not to say that Alessandrini loses sight of his comic target. “What Did You Miss?” is a goof on Miranda’s machine-gun rap style, which can be incomprehensible, if truth were told. As the Fresh Prince of Big Hair, Edwards wins “The Rap Off Contest.”  There’s a running gag about beloved Broadway divas, dressed as crones, chasing Miranda and begging for tickets to the show, as well as a song about current pop star divas, chasing Miranda and begging him for songs.

“In the Hype” is a not-so-subtle reference to the insane popularity that has practically swallowed up Miranda.  And the evening ends on a rousing number, led by Schell as Barbra Streisand, called “The Film When It Happens” that looks into the future, which is funny, if a bit fraught. At least for Odom, Jr.

But even when he’s closely focused on “Hamilton,” Alessandrini finds a way to pitch his broader vision of the business of Broadway. At its wittiest, this tendency reveals itself in a delicious turn by “guest star” Glenn Bassett  as King George, not seducing the audience as he does in “Hamilton,” but gleefully informing us that gay shows like “Kinky Boots” are on the way out, because “Straight Is Back” on Broadway. And “Book of No More Mormon” rubs in the fact that “Hamilton” can make even the biggest hits feel tired.

In the end, the overall tone of the satire turns out to be sweet, only slightly sour and never savage.  But what else could be expected from Alessandrini, who has Miranda pegged as a fellow theater lover who worships at the same cathedral of Sondheim. (A medley of songs in the vein of Sondheim is quite brilliant.)

To quote the generous sentiments Alessandrini attributes to the boy-man wonder:  “If there’s a better Broadway, I’m gonna find it — or build it.”

Off Broadway Review: 'Spamilton,' The Musical Spoof of 'Hamilton'

Triad Theater; 130 seats; $59 top. Opened Sept. 8, 2016. Reviewed Aug. 31. Running time:  ONE HOUR, 10 MIN.

Production: A production by Lush Budgett Productions, John Freedson, Christine Pedi, and David Zippel, in association with Harriet Yellin and Peter Martin, of a musical revue in one act created and written by Gerard Alessandrini.

Creative: Directed by Gerard Alessandrini. Choreography, Gerry McIntyre; costumes, Dustin Cross; sound, Matt Weber; musical direction, Fred Barton; musical arrangements, Richard Danley; production stage manager, Glenn Bassett

Cast: Juwan Crawley, Chris Anthony Giles, Nicholas Edwards, Dan Rosales, Nora Schell.

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