BWW Interview: Gerard Alessandrini's SPAMILTON Duels It Out With HAMILTON
Just as HAMILTON moved to Broadway from its original Public Theater home downtown, SPAMILTON, a clever musical mashup of current and vintage Broadway shows, is ready for its great leap.
Gerard Alessandrini, SPAMILTON's writer, creator and director, took a break from rehearsal to chat about the production and the move, from the Upper West Side to the 47th Street Theatre in midtown. "You'd think that doing a show for so long, there'd be no need of rehearsal. And yet ... " Alessandrini said. "We plan on being in the new theater in June, so there are always things to do." SPAMILTON opened in 2016.
Though SPAMILTON aims its wit at all things Broadway, its primary target, as indicated by the title, is the juggernaut of a play about the first secretary of the Treasury. The satire successfully hammers HAMILTON with love-by-parody in a zippy 70-minute show hinged on the ego of the creator.
"HAMILTON inspired me to write this show because Broadway was beginning to repeat itself," Alessandrini said. "There wasn't a lot of adventurousness out there until HAMILTON happened. I really wanted to tackle HAMILTON, even though I knew I couldn't do the real story of the play.
"I thought it would be fun to do a fantasy version," he said of the musical whose hook is that former President Obama and First Lady Michelle are in bed listening to tunes from their favorite show. Alessandrini explains in a director's note, "When Jacqueline Kennedy revealed to the press that she and her husband JFK liked to listen to the original Broadway cast album of CAMELOT every night before they fell asleep, she forever dubbed the JFK presidency the CAMELOT years. Barack and Michelle Obama have championed their favorite musical, HAMILTON," reads Alessandrini's author's notes in the "PlayKill."
"Twenty years from now we may very well look back on 2014-2016 as The HAMILTON years. I have no idea if they actually listen to the HAMILTON Broadway cast album every night before they fall asleep, but it's very fun to fantasize as such."
Alessandrini paved the way for SPAMILTON decades ago when he created the satirical Forbidden Broadway shows that deflated, in a good-natured way, current and vintage popular musicals and the stars they begot.
Divas from then and now populated the shows, and actors lampoon them still in SPAMILTON. You might get a glimpse of Barbra, Beyoncé, Bernadette, Liza or JLo before the evening is through. If you're lucky you'll see veteran Forbidden actor Christine Pedi find her way onstage and steal the spotlight. Which is hard to do with such a formidably talented cast.
Alessandrini is a huge fan of HAMILTON'S own founding father, Lin-Manuel Miranda, although he hasn't seen the play a zillion times. "I've seen it twice, which may sound surprising," Alessandrini said. "It isn't a lot, but I saw it in the original downtown and on Broadway. I have the book and it has the entire script and hundreds of pictures, the story, and it's wonderful. Not only is it great writing and story, the direction and musical vocal arrangements are stupendous. Much more stupendous than we've had lately on Broadway," he added.
"HAMILTON reminded me of the best possible theatricality, like Cirque du Soleil with elements of contemporary theater. The writing, the lighting, the effects and direction are like what OKLAHOMA was like in its day," Alessandrini said. "It all came together in one big story in a brand-new way. That's HAMILTON.
"The lighting and technical aspects are amazing, everything is, and the score, of course. In SPAMILTON we're combining elements of theater but on a comedic level. We mash up everything, the choreography is turned inside out. It's a great team and they're so young. They're in their 20s and for some of them this is their first professional job," he added.
"They bring enthusiasm and energy and it's fun to see Lin-Manuel spoofed by people who are so much younger." The hardest songs to parody were the rap ones, he said. "'My Shot' took a long time to do. The rap was very hard to get right. It's hard to do the equivalent of what they're doing on that stage. It's like writing a 25-page song."
The easiest songs to write? "Some of the Broadway songs were the easiest to do," he said. "My pencil was well sharpened to parody Sondheim and RAGTIME and it was kind of a relief to do something familiar," he said with a laugh. "Last night we had such a knowledgeable audience, a lot of them knew the HAMILTON score so well, I think they laughed the loudest. It was a nice mix of young and veteran Broadway goers," he said. "Someone is always laughing at something.
"You really don't need to have seen HAMILTON because they know the score already from the CD. They laugh at all the in-jokes.
"The original cast of SPAMILTON were all given tickets to the show, they were treated to house seats and after seeing it they were able to incorporate little things they picked up in the show," Alessandrini said.
He's also benefitted from Manuel's hearty approval. "He really liked it a lot and appreciated the work that went into it," he added. "Most of the original cast of HAMILTON has seen our show and really liked it."
SPAMILTON will start previews in the new venue June 2 and opens June 19. The theater isn't that much bigger than the current one, which holds 140 seats.
"We will be the same show," Alessandrini said. "We're just looking to move it and maybe update it with a few references. But essentially, it's the same show."
Spamilton is playing at the PUERTO RICAN TRAVELING THEATER - 304 W 47TH ST The cast includes Dan Rosales, Nicole Vanessa Ortiz, Chris Anthony Giles, Tristan J. Shuler and Aaron Michael Ray. Choreography is by Gerry McIntyre, costume design by Dustin Cross, musical director is Fred Barton and is created, written and directed by Gerard Alessandrini.