Chicago Theatre Review
Spoofing a Theatrical Icon
Spamilton – Royal George Theatre
Gerard Alessandrini has been writing his “Forbidden Broadway” and “Forbidden Hollywood” musical parodies since 1982. These witty, hilarious cabaret revues have always been tremendous hits with both critics and audiences, particularly among all the fans of the shows and celebrities they satirize. The various incarnations of Alessandrini’s revues spoofed the plots, musical numbers, iconic characters as well as the actors playing them. Sometimes a director or a special aspect of a show was mocked, as well, which brings us to superstar, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Primarily playing Off-Broadway, just steps away from the bigger Broadway houses, a few of Alessandrini’s parodies even hit the road, playing cities like London, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and even Chicago. Some of his caricatures have become classic, theatrical standards that’ve achieved as much or even more fame than the originals they parodied. Many productions, from the original, to later versions subtitled with names like “Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back,” “Cleans Up Its Act,” “Special Victims Unit,” or “Goes to Rehab,” have even been recorded to popular acclaim.
Alessandrini, who went into semi-retirement for a while, returned to his writing desk when the unprecedented popularity of “Hamilton” seemed to demand a new edition to his successful series. But rather than simply calling it something like “Forbidden Broadway: In the Room Where It Happens,” he created a hybrid of two musical titles for his new parody, merging “Spamalot” and “Hamilton” into “Spamilton.” And, to be fair, Alessandrini doesn’t simply focus his parody entirely on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s multi award-winning biographical musical. He includes a myriad of mirthful, musical moments from other shows. Many of Sondheim’s greatest hits, as well as iconic musicals, like “Phantom of the Opera,” “The King and I,” “Annie,” “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Les Miserables” are also parodied. Besides Miranda and all of the original, Tony-nominated “Hamilton” cast, Alessandrini skewers other theatrical celebrities as Bernadette Peters, Audra McDonald, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli and more.
And does this show sparkle! It really does Chicago proud, being cast entirely with some of the most talented young local actor/singer/musicians around. Both the writing, which is razor sharp and filled with wit and humor, and the spot-on direction, all by Gerard Alessandrini himself, is superb. Gerry McIntyre’s challenging hip hop choreography is right on the button and Dustin Cross’ creative costumes both imitate and lampoon, while allowing for lightning-fast quick changes. Fred Barton’s excellent musical direction, Barton and Richard Danley’s perfect arrangements for voice and piano and talented Chicago pianist Adam LaSalle (who’s also superb in a cameo role playing King George III) make this production sing.
Alessandrini’s magnificent cast includes the sweet-faced, honey-voiced Yando Lopez, portraying Lin-Manuel Miranda, both the
playwright/composer of “Hamilton” and “In the Heights,” as well as the leading character of Alexander Hamilton. Donterrio Johnson is terrific as, among other characters, the wild-wigged Daveed Diggs, who, in “Hamilton,” played both Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Johnson’s powerful voice is featured well in this production. Eric Andrew Lewis is once again stellar, both vocally and choreographically. This time around he portrays, among other characters, Leslie Odom, Jr., who created the role of Aaron Burr on Broadway. David Robbins, with the most unbelievable vocal range, is hilarious in a number of “Hamilton” roles, but he almost gets a standing ovation when he walks onstage dressed as Annie Warbucks. Lovely, super-talented Michelle Lauto plays all three of the Schuyler sisters, employing hand puppets, as well as almost every other female character and performer lampooned. And, for a limited time only, Broadway’s Christine Pedi makes several appearances as the Guest Diva. Having starred in a number of Alessandrini’s previous “Forbidden Broadway” incarnations, Ms. Pedi is fluent and wonderfully funny impersonating such celebrities as Liza, Bernadette and many others.
This is an absolute must-see Chicago production, whether or not audiences have actually seen a production of “Hamilton” or simply worn out their two-disc CD original cast album listening to it. Anyone familiar with Broadway, or who just plain loves musical theatre, will roar with laughter at Alessandrini’s luminous writing, his entire flashy production and his incredibly incandescent local cast. Much like the musical phenomenon it parodies, it’s a show that begs to be seen more than once, if only to appreciate the craftsmanship and talent to be found on the Royal George Cabaret Stage. Enthusiastic audiences, who continually burst into standing ovations throughout the 90-minute performance, will keep this hit running for a long time. Theatergoers who head to N. Halsted will thrill, once again, to be in the room where it happened.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted, Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the theatre box office, by calling them at 312-988-9000 or by going to www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.