By Barry Reszel
Multi-talented Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda was born in 1980, as “Dean Martin‘s Celebrity Roast” was winding down its decade-long, periodic skewering of the rich and famous. (Read a history here.)
The 54 shows on NBC, hosted by Rat Pack stalwart Martin, were modeled after roasts held at the New York Friars’ Club where a celebrity guest was seated on a dais and insulted (with affection) about his career by his or her fellow celebrity friends.
Well-known guests included Bob Hope (at age 71), Bette Davis (at age 65), Martin himself (58) and Betty White (at 56), among others.
Gerard Alessandrini, once a writer for Hope, has been putting out well-known musical parodies under his Forbidden Broadway label since Miranda was 2. Think of them as clever, witty, bitingly funny, cabaret roasts for musical theatre nerds. Most of Alessandrini’s episodes played Off-Broadway with numerous stagings in other cities.
Fortunately, the musical maelstrom that is Hamilton brought Alessandrini back to his parody roots with a pointed, good-natured roasting of 37-year-old Miranda in his latest offering, Spamilton. In its new Chicago staging at The Royal George Theatre, taken from the Off-Broadway production, the director not only makes mischief with Broadway wunderkind Miranda. He’s sassy to Stephen Sondheim, deliciously derides Disney, is wicked to Wicked and miserable to Les Miserables.
Alessandrini’s humor and clever direction are well complemented by Gerry McIntyre’s fun, challenging choreography that uses every inch of the small cabaret space. Dustin Cross’ costumes are extensive and creative; Musical Director Fred Barton teamed on the arrangements with Richard Danley, putting out terrific voical/piano arrangements to showcase a wonderful all-Chicago ensemble.
It’s led by youthful Yando Lopez as Miranda, who hilariously shifts from verbose playwright/composer to leading actor. He is well supported by a three-man trio of Donterrio Johnson (playing Daveed Diggs as both Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson); Eric Andrew Lewis (Leslie Odom, Jr./Aaron Burr) and David Robbins (numerous characters, including Annie Warbucks). Each of these three men show off incredible vocal shops, superb timing and superior choreographic execution.
Brilliant accompanist Adam LaSalle is magnificent both at the keyboard and in his cameo playing Jonathan Groff as King George III.
That said, the truly signature performance is from stunning Michelle Lauto, who plays nearly every female character in the show, sometimes three at once. If her recent performance as Vanessa in Porchlight’s In the Heights didn’t put her on every Chicagoland casting director’s radar, her work in Spamilton certainly will. Lauto’s unbelievable vocal range and comedic timing are evident throughout, nowhere funnier than when using puppets for a Punch and Judy-esque trio playing all of Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jasmine Cephas Jones and Phillipa Soo, Broadway’s original Schuyler Sisters.
Rounding out the cast is a series of cameos by Broadway luminaries Bernadette Peters, Audra , Liza (with a z), Babs and others, via hilarious impersonation. They were done the first week by Broadway and Sirius XM star Christine Pedi and will be taken up by other performers during the run.
It’s fair to consider Spamilton akin to a “special features” disc in a boxed DVD set. So the greater one’s Broadway IQ, the greater that patron’s enjoyment. But there’s no caveat to the talent and wit put forth in this celebrity roast.
Dean Martin would surely be proud.
“Spamilton” is presented through May 28 at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Michael Brosilow.