By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Writer
In 1981 a waiter and struggling performer, Gerard Alessandrini, grabbed a bunch of friends and a clutch of parody songs he’d written lampooning musical theater and presented a cabaret act he titled, Forbidden Broadway. From such tiny acorns do mighty oak trees grow. Forbidden became a staple in New York, continually replenished and refreshed with a new edition every year or so (when it comes to swollen egos needing a bit of popping, there’s no shortage in the world of theater.)
Forbidden toured the country several times and has been exported around the globe. It’s so loved (and feared) in the theater community that the show, and Alessandrini, were awarded an honorary Tony in 2006.
“Spamilton” continues through August 25. CLO Cabaret, Downtown. 412-456-6666. www.CLOCabaret.com
The last Forbidden Alessandrini wrote was in 2014 and I seem to recall his saying at the time that it was likely to be the series finale. But only a year later an entertainment volcano erupted on Broadway, Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton and Alessandrini was not about to let that juggernaut go unscathed … and that, dear children, is how he came to write Spamilton.
CLO Cabaret hosts the production and for fans of both Hamilton and musical theater it’s a chance to watch a group of mercilessly talented performers deliver plenty of jokes, all at the expense of our favorite pastime.
The “concept” behind Spamilton (if I can use such a formal word with such a freewheeling show) is that composer/lyricist Miranda is trying to top his mega-hit with an even bigger show. And with that loose framework Alessandrini, using existing melodies by Miranda (and others) spends at least half of this 90-minute show poking fun at Hamilton and, later, lots of other current Broadway hits.
Forbidden regular Gerry McIntrye directs an extremely fast-paced and high energy production; one of the strongest features of Spamilton is that thanks to McIntrye and the nature of the material you don’t have time to be bored – if one joke isn’t to your liking, just wait a half-second because there’s another one hurtling down the road.
By far the biggest plus of this production is a five-person ensemble of such amazing talent, dexterity, and stamina that nothing seems beyond their reach. Because the targets of Spamilton are so varied, the performers’ abilities – by definition – must be as varied … and that’s absolutely no problem here.
Justin Lonesome, T. J. Newton, Erin Ramirez, LaTrea Rembert and Tru Verret-Fleming are an overwhelming tsunami of fierce energy flung out with total commitment to the material; I was breathless watching their performances, I can only imagine how much time they spend off-stage recuperating in oxygen tents. Even the remarkable pianist Nick Stamatakis gets his own number to shine.
But as with past Forbidden shows, I do feel the need to run the usual disclaimer: If you’re not a musical theater freak or familiar with Hamilton, I wonder what you’re opinion will be.
The whole thing is one inside joke after another and while you will certainly marvel at the work of the actors you’ll probably feel a little left out. To take one random example – there’s a number about Daveed Diggs playing Lafayette in the first act then Jefferson in the second.
And even though I am very familiar with Hamilton I did find the first part of the show a little flat … it’s one joke basically repeated over and over. In the second half, Alessandrini broadens his targets a bit and I enjoyed this section more. A funny take on Book of Mormon is a standout, but even here you need to know about Christian Borle’s Willy Wonka, Bob Fosse’s poses and which superstar presented Hamilton with its Tony Award for Best Musical in 2017.
If that sentence has little meaning for you, it’s probably best to stay away. But for the rest of us Spamilton’s a whole lot of fun.