THEATER REVIEW: “Spamilton” @ Playhouse Square by Roy Berko

Through Sun 1/6

It won Best Unique Theatrical Experience and 2017 MAC Award Show of the Year. Hamilton? No, Spamilton: An American Parody, which is now starting its North American tour at the Hanna Theatre in Playhouse Square.

The tour will play 10 multi-week engagements. When it leaves Cleveland it transfers to the Las Vegas’ Smith Center. Spamilton has previously been seen in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and London. The Los Angeles production received five LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Award nominations, including Best Production of a Musical (Large Theater) and Best Choreography.

Created by Gerard Alessandrini, the comic mastermind behind the long-running hit Forbidden Broadway, the musical parody is performed by a versatile cast featuring Chuckie Benson, Ani Djirdjirian, Marissa Hecker, Brandon Kinley, Adrian Lopez, Dominic Pecikonis and Datus Puryear accompanied by pianist Curtis Reynolds.

One of the immediate questions asked by potential audience members is, (a) “Will I understand the show if I’m not very familiar with the lyrics to Hamilton? Question (b) is, “Since there are references to numerous other shows, will I be lost without being a Broadway musical maven?” Then, of course, there is the question (c), “Is this filled with lots of rap, like Hamilton?

The answers are: yes, maybe and yes!

Yes, (a) if you know the lyrics to the original score, you might appreciate the cleverness of the parody. On the other hand, if you don’t know the lyrics, you won’t have to try and erase them from your memory in order to open-mindedly listen to the words. I admit, having seen Hamilton several times and knowing the score well, I found myself fighting the parody at times. After a while, I just concentrated on the new words, blocking out what I had in my mind.

The “maybe” for (b) is, yes, it’s fun to know that the show includes references to such musicals as Hello Dolly, GypsyMan of LaManchaMiss SaigonRentCompanyCatsMary PoppinsLes MiserablesIn The HeightsHarry PotterAvenue Q and The Lion King.

It makes you feel like a musical theater insider when and if you can identify that there are song take-offs on “Camelot” from Camelot and “Tomorrow” from Annie. It really makes you feel like a whiz kid if you recognize the references to the fact that the first public display of any part of the original Lin-Manuel Miranda script was at a White House reception hosted by the Obamas, and that Stephen Sondheim gave his professional blessing to the creator’s work.

Not knowing the original source material won’t allow you to pass the test given at the end of show requiring you to identify the shows referred to in the script or the coat check won’t give you back your garment (I’m kidding, of course), but you can still enjoy yourself.

And, (c), yes, there is rap, lots of it. As in Hamilton, after a while, however, your ear gets used to the modern rhyming sound, and, like watching Shakespeare, the clarity just seems to come.

One thing that would help the very talented singers to get their messages across would be for the pianist to lighten up and not pound the piano so furiously. The overly loud, harsh sound, drowns out words that are needed to understand the comedy. “Cool and relax a little man. You can. It’ll help the plan.”

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Spamilton: An American Parody can be a fun evening of theater if you don’t set the bar of pleasure at “I have to understand everything that is sung.” Just grab what you can and enjoy the cleverness of the writer, the talent of the cast, and appreciate the homage being paid to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has created a musical masterpiece by the name of Hamilton, changing the American theater forever.

Spamilton runs Mon 12/24-Sun 1/6. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org.

[Written by Roy Berko, member: American Theatre Critics Association and Cleveland Critics Circle]

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