Shortly after the Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced that it was bringing in the Hamilton juggernaut, the Center Theatre Group (FB) was faced with a dillemma: how to counterprogram? Their answer was to jump on the bandwagon with Spamilton.
Spamilton is a parody musical that sprung from the creative mind of Gerard Alessandrini (FB), creator of the long running spoof series, Forbidden Broadway. The Forbidden series has been long known to skewer current and past Broadway shows, and Spamilton could well have been titled Forbidden Hamilton — for that’s what it is: taking all of the hot air out of the musical theatre over-inflated Hamilton while simultaneously showing its love for the show. Along the way, it skewers other present and past Broadway shows.
Miraculously, I had not had the opportunity to obtain the Spamilton cast album before the show, and I hadn’t heard the songs. I recommend you do this as well so that the humor is fresh. Overall, I found the show hilarious — one of the funniest I’d seen in a while. But then again, I got about 98% of the jokes because I’m familiar with the shows and conventions skewered. If you’re less familiar with theatre and Hamilton, you might not get it all.
The reference to “Too Many Words” refers to the target of this parody: not Hamilton but it’s author, Lin-Manuel Miranda (FB). They comment on how many words Lin crams into a song and a lyric, his forced rhyming styles, his comparison to heroes like Sondheim and past shows. They highlight rap and hip-hop from previous Broadway shows (which wasn’t called hip-hop them, but was still highly patterned rhythmic rhyming). Over the bulk of the 90-so minutes, what one comes away with a sense of is their love of what Lin created. After all, you don’t see them making fun of High Fidelity, do you (and I happen to like that show).
With respect to Lin himself, Alessandrini gets it mostly right. He identifies Lin’s major works, of course: In The Heights and Hamilton, as well as his work with Disney. But he misses the opportunity the other recent show that Lin had a hand in — and that started here in Los Angeles: Bring It On The Musical. As least to me (perhaps because I recently listened to the Broadway Backstory on the show), it was a big omission.
Along with poking fun at Lin, Spamilton pokes fun at what Hamilton has become: a steamroller with overpriced seats, for which all are clamoring for tickets, and how the song and story entered the cultural vernacular (how often have you seen “in the room where it happens” or “tell your story”?) It also examines, albeit briefly, other recent Broadway shows of varying depth and quality, together with a number of past shows. For example, there is a reference to The Unsinkable Molly Brown, but I’m not sure who other than theatre nerds will get the joke. Molly Brown hasn’t had a revival since the early sixties when it opened. There also was the required reference to Barbra Streisand, although thankfully there is none of the usual references to Mary Martin or Carol Channing (although there is a Dolly reference).
Unfortunately, the delay between writing this up and seeing the show (we saw it Sunday evening — the start of the headache cycle) means that some of the best jokes have faded from memory. This is why I now plan to get the cast album. What hasn’t changed is the memory that this is one of the few shows that had me really laughing during the show; my wife noted that she hadn’t wanted to see a show that night, but she really enjoyed it. That said something about how the humor of this parody hit the two of us — probably a representative sample of those who see too much theatre. It was able to cut through the trite and find the body, and then to parody and skewer that body in a truly hilarious way.
I do recall that the production was jam-packed and non-stop, moving from parody to parody with nary a moment to catch your breath. Uhh, just like that other show over on Hollywood Blvd.
Gerard Alessandrini (FB) directed his ensemble well, enabling them to move from characterization to characterization smoothly and to have fun with the material and the audience. The ensemble itself — Dedrick A. Bonner (FB), John Devereaux (FB), WIlkie Ferguson III (FB), William Cooper Howell (FB), and Zakiya Young (FB) keeps switching roles, but primarily play the actors behind the characters in Hamilton. But they have loads of non-Hamilton characters as well, and if there is anything that can be said about the ensemble, it is that they pull this off with talent, aplomb, and a lot of pluck. Given the constantly switching characters, it is hard to single anyone out — they are all that good.
Added to the Ensemble for a specialty number or two are Glenn Bassett (FB) and Susanne Blakeslee (FB). Bassett primarily comes on as King George, but Blakeslee is more broadly credited as “Diva”, taking on a number of, well, white actresses: Glen Close, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, and so forth.
Working up this writeup on the cast (and thus searching for their bios), what strikes me is how “LA” this cast is, unlike most CTG / Ahmanson shows. This production is really an LA-incarnation of Spamilton with actors grounded in or originating from LA, unlike the New York visitors we often get. That’s a refreshing and good thing to see, CTG.
Music for the show it provided by an on-stage piano, which is not explicitly credited in the program, but which I’m assuming was being tickled by Music Director James Lent (FB). Music supervision and arrangements were by Fred Barton (FB), with additional arrangements by Richard Danley (FB). Gerard Alessandrini (FB) presumably wrote the lyrics as he is credited as the writer of the show, and there is no separate “music and lyrics” credit; he also likely adapted the songs as necessary.
Production-wise, things are … simple. There’s no credit for scenic design because there really is none — there is just a poster of Spamilton that the actors can disappear behind. Everything else is done with props, which is why Glenn Bassett (FB) is also credited with being set and prop consultant. Much more important to setting the scene in this show is the costume design work of Dustin Cross (FB). I can’t vouch for accuracy with the shows they parody, but the costumes evoke enough similarity to identify the shows and that is what matters. They are also flexible enough to accommodate the large variety of characters portrayed by each actor. They were also all made by the CTG costume shop; these are not tour costumes. All of this is supported by the lighting design of Karyn D. Lawrence (FB) and the sound design of Adam Phalen (FB) [although, alas, the latter was marred in execution by a large amount of microphone static at our performance]. Other production credits: Andrew Lynford, CSA – Casting; Lindsay Allbaugh (FB) – Associate Producer; Brooke Baldwin (FB) – Production Stage Manager; and Maggie Swing (FB) – Stage Manager.
Note that, although this is a local production, it is also the start of a tour.
Although Spamilton in New York is closing, Spamilton in Los Angeles has extended to January 7, so disregard what is on my graphic. Tickets are available through the CTG website; Spamilton is on Goldstar, but is sold out. TIckets don’t appear to be available on TodayTix. So, although they are less expensive, Spamilton tickets are harder to get. It is well worth seeing.
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) [the company formerly known as Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)], the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre(FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Saroya [the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
Thanksgiving Weekend will bring Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). November concludes with the Anat Cohen Tentet at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB) and Levi (a new Sherman Brothers musical) at LA Community College Caminito Theatre (FB).
December starts with ACSAC 2017 in Orlando FL. As soon as we return, we’ve got Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB) and the Colburn Orchestra at the Saroya (the venue formerly known as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)) (FB). The weekend encompassing Chanukah sees us back at the Saroya (FB) for the Klezmatics (FB). We also hope to squeeze in a performance of A Christmas Story at the Canyon Theatre Guild (FB). Of course there will also be the obligatory Christmas Day movie — who knows — perhaps it’ll be the upcoming The Greatest Showman.
Right now, early 2018 is pretty open, with only a few weekends taken by shows at the Pantages and Actors Co-Op. I did just pick up tickets for Candide at LA Opera (FB). But that will likely fill up as Chromolume announces their dates, and announcements are received on interesting shows. Currently, we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018! We may also be adding a CTG subscription, given their recent announcements regarding the next season.
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.