Can something truly be called a cultural phenomenon in this day and age if it hasn’t been spoofed?
Whether or not it can, there is little doubt that “Hamilton” has seeped into the culture in ways few Broadway shows have done in decades.
So, it isn’t surprising that Gerard Alessandrini, the master of Great White Way satire and the founder of “Forbidden Broadway,” has applied his talents to the hip-hop historical musical. His spoof, “Spamilton: An American Parody,” is touring the country and The Phoenix Theater Company is hosting it from June 12 to August 11.
“Everyone who knows ‘Hamilton’ and loves ‘Hamilton’ loves this show—they hear the music, they know all the lyrics, and when they hear how we twist and play with it, it’s priceless,” says Datus Puryear, the actor who plays actor Leslie Odom Jr. and historical politician/lawyer Aaron Burr in the touring production.
“Everyone knows the show so well and they’re ready to have a good time. We do the twist and they’re always right there with us.”
The twists include new words to familiar songs, creative casting, puppets, and the skewering of other shows and Broadway personalities. In addition to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical, “Spamilton” also parodies “Gypsy,” “Chicago,” “The King and I,” “Assassins,” “Camelot,” “The Book of Mormon” and “Sweeney Todd.”
The show debuted in New York in July 2016 and continued a successful run that extended to Chicago, London and a national tour.
Puryear says he and many of his fellow cast members have auditioned many times for “Hamilton” (and he has been called back many times as well) and when they auditioned for “Spamilton,” they knew most the music by heart. It made it easier to jump into “Spamilton,” especially because they had only two weeks to rehearse before going live.
“If I didn’t know anything about Hamilton, it would have been hard. Knowing it made that learning curve a lot easier,” Puryear says.
Puryear got a late introduction to musical theater. While he was involved in the arts and music throughout school, he’d never done theater until he was encouraged to audition for “Beauty and the Beast” during his senior year of high school. He was cast as the Beast.
“It was a whole other door that opened for me,” he says. “It made me regret not doing theater my previous four years. When I went to college for music, I continued to do shows. It was something new I had discovered.”
After college, he did a few commercials, had his first TV show on CBS, and then he booked “Spamilton.”
It’s a show he says is absolutely for everyone—whether they have seen “Hamilton” or not.
“When I first booked the role, I was thinking that this was just going to be for a niche audience,” Puryear says. “A lot of people have seen ‘Hamilton,’ but not everyone. But no, you definitely don’t need to have seen ‘Hamilton’ to grasp what is going on. We spoof so many other shows and the content in and of itself is so funny.”
In fact, he says, seeing “Spamilton” can prep you for seeing the real thing.
“For those who haven’t seen ‘Hamilton,’ it teaches you what it is about,” Puryear says.
The touring experience has been fantastic for him. His 6-month-old son and his wife have joined him on tour. He says they’ve formed close bonds with everyone they travel with.
The show pianist made a special shirt for his son that has the “Spamilton” star on it and is emblazoned with the word “Spamiltot.”
“That has been the highlight of the show—the loving care of the cast, creative team, producers and directors,” Puryear says. “The whole experience of being on tour has been fantastic. The way they embrace my family has been wonderful.”
“Spamilton’s” creator Alessandrini is best known for “Forbidden Broadway,” a long-running off-Broadway revue that parodies musical theater. It opened in 1982 and was continually rewritten to include new material and spoof new musicals. It ran cabaret style and typically had four actors playing multiple roles. Over the decades, they released multiple CDs and toured the world. At times they stretched out to do such things as “Forbidden Hollywood.”
Some of the songs in “Spamilton” include such titles as “Lin-Manuel as Hamilton,” “Aaron Burr, Sir, Nervous-er,” “Look Around (The Schuyler Puppets)” several reprises of “Ticket Beggar Woman,” (a take-off on the beggar woman from Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” begging for tickets instead of alms), “Daveed Diggs – The Fresh Prince of Big Hair,” “Book of No More Mormons,” “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Cries” and “The Film When It Happens.”
The show opens, not with Aaron Burr, but with the actor who played him on Broadway, Puryear’s role of Leslie Odom Jr. He sings the opening number about Miranda, a theatrical revolutionary who is out to change Broadway much the way the character he played—Alexander Hamilton—revolutionized America.
How does a whipper snapper
Student of rap
And a Latin
Trapped in the middle of a
With Broadway accolades
While other writers kiss
The corporate dollar
Grow up to be a hip-hop op’ra
At other times, the actor playing Miranda sings “I am not gonna let Broadway rot” instead of “I’m not throwing away my shot.”
While the show is a parody and spoof, it is clear that Alessandrini is himself a fan of “Hamilton” and Miranda, and “Spamilton” spoofs in the most admiring of terms.
Puryear encourages anyone who is a fan of musical theater to see “Spamilton.” The show, he points out, is only an hour and 15 minutes long—with no intermission.
“You’ll get a night of musical comedy and dancing,” Puryear says. “It’s a great night out. It’s fun filled, it’s not too long and it’s nonstop laughter.”
The Phoenix Theatre, 1825 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, 602.254.2151, phoenixtheatre.com, 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Wednesday, June 12, to Sunday, August 11, $38-$88.