As everyone knows, Hamilton, the hit musical that grosses $2.5-$3 million weekly at the Richard Rodgers Theatre while breaking the record for most Tony nominations, is brilliant, original, great fun—and very expensive. The top face price of tickets is $849, but if you want truly good seats you may have to go to one of the ticket resellers and pay in the thousands. As of June 9th, however, you can now walk a block to the 47th Street Theatre where Hamilton’s hilarious and only slightly evil twin, Spamilton, is showing at a top price of $113.
Created, written, and directed by Gerard Alessandrini, Spamilton is the most recent in a series of parodies produced by Forbidden Broadway, pronounced “the most successful musical series in the history of Off Broadway” by critic Thomas S. Hischak. Parodying musicals since 1982, “Forbidden Broadway” opened upstairs at Palsson’s Supper Club, now called Triad Theatre, on Manhattan’s West 72nd Street. It ran for six years and 2,332 performances before moving to various other locations, gypsy-theatre style, with annual show updates to match what was running on Broadway.
Despite several wildly successful years, Alessandrini suspended Forbidden Broadway for the 2009 season, saying Broadway had become too “theme-park like.” This was a far cry from the previous season when Forbidden Broadway went after revivals of South Pacific and Sunday in the Park with George with relish, not to mention new shows like Miranda’s remarkable In the Heights (which Forbidden Broadway called In the Hype). Then came Hamilton.
Hamilton’s playbill features a pentagram or Eastern star with the top point cut off and replaced by a colonially dressed man pointing upwards, with the underline “An American Musical.” Spamilton’s flaunts the same cut-off star replaced by a profile of a colonially dressed man flipping the bird rudely. Its underline? “An American Parody.” As in Hamilton, Spamilton’s cast sport skin-tight breeches (“Thighs Up!”), sleek boots, fabulous hair-dos, and lots of chest.
While Hamilton’s producers refused to tell The New York Times on the record whether they had a problem with Alessandrini’s send-up, creator-in-chief Lin-Manuel Miranda has tweeted his affection (“I laughed my brains out”) and posed with Dan Rosales (“the talented young man who plays me.”)
In place of Hamilton’s most famous lyrics, “I am not throwing away my shot,” Forbidden Broadway offers, “I am not gonna let Broadway rot.” This is not only an old Alessandrini theme, it’s an old Lin-Manuel idea as well: save Broadway from the likes of Disney and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Spamilton’s Aaron Burr sings directly to his “salsa hip-hop main man,” Lin-Manuel: “Broadway’s been less crappy/ Since the happy day/ You came.”
Calling on its Broadway heritage, Spamilton mixes some dozen songs from Hamilton with a handful from older musicals. Thus, Stephen Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People” becomes Spamilton’s “Another Hundred Syllables Just Came Out of My Mouth.”
Alessandrini replaces Hamilton’s “Room Where It Happens” with “I Wanna Be in the Film When It Happens.” Aaron Burr (first played by Leslie Odom Jr. in Hamilton) wants to be in the movie when it happens, but knows the producers will choose questionable movie stars instead: “There will be a lot of tears when it happens/ Just imagine who they’ll cast when it happens/ Sad is the film when it happens.” Johnny Depp as Hamilton. Shia LaBeouf as Jefferson. Russell Crowe as Aaron Burr. Lady Gaga (but wouldn’t she make a fine Schuyler sister?)
At the close, the Spamilton cast turns to the audience and sings: “Raise a glass to the best of us/ Encouraging the rest of us/ Search for your glory wrong or right.” Wild applause and foot-stomping follows, of course, since that’s what NYC is all about: searching for your glory, wrong or right. Once again Alessandrini gets it right, in part because Lin-Manuel Miranda got it right.
The truth is you have to be good to be parodied by Alessandrini—or at least captivating. He doesn’t make fun of just anyone. When the Broadway season is weak, he struggles. But if you’re parodied you become part of the establishment, says Martin Lowe, the music supervisor and orchestrator for the 2012 musical, Once, who concluded, “It’s really the most flattering thing that can happen to you.”
To work, Forbidden Broadway also needs an almost unlimited supply of talent, actors who can sing and dance, and an urbane audience. Forbidden Broadway rides on the coattails of fame—audience members have to know a play to love the parody. As Alessandrini wrote for his first production: ”The backers who finance a show/ All agree people like what they know/ So instead of what’s new/ They just redo the few/ That were famous in 1940.”
Luckily for Forbidden Broadway, which is as dependent as Broadway itself on audience attendance and savvy, Broadway has just come off its most successful year since 1940, with astonishingly high grosses. It will be interesting to see how Spamilton fares in other cities as it coat-tails Hamilton on tour. It has already opened in Chicago at the Royal George Theatre (“tickets starting at $35”) with enthusiastic reviews. “Hysterical, clever, incredible fun and laugh-out loud,” said WGN Radio, Chicago’s usually staid independent station. Hamilton is playing a few blocks south in the Loop at the PrivateBank Theatre. And will Spamilton follow Hamilton to London, when it opens at the Victoria Palace Theatre in November? Not sure, says a spokesman, “but there is a conversation happening.”
Puerto Rican Traveling Theater
47th Street Theater
304 W 47th Street
New York, NY 10036
212. 279. 4200
Through September 3, 2017