Spamilton: An American Parody

created, written, and directed by Gerard Alessandrini

SpamiltonMy wife, my daughter and I enjoy the musical Hamilton. But we can also appreciate a bit of a takedown of the phenomenon. Spamilton: An American Parody fits the bill. My family saw it on a Saturday night at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. I was attending a library gala at the time, so I went on the previous Thursday.

The first song made it clear that it was Lin-Manuel Miranda who would be the target of many of the jokes. And, according to the program, a skewering was allowed by Manuel and his co-creators.

The bulk of the ninety minutes were played by five actors. Jared Alexander played Daveed Diggs, who played Lafayette and Jefferson in the original cast. Datus Puryear was Aaron Burr and the actor who played him, Leslie Odom, Jr. Rendell DeBose played various other characters, from Ben Franklin to Annie. Adrian Lopez is a ringer for a younger Lin-Manuel.

Paloma D’Auria played ALL of the leading ladies, sometimes with puppets. She also portrayed many of the divas of Broadway. Brandon Kinley only played King George III and one other role.

Not every setup worked. But the piece, created, written, and directed by Gerard Alessandrini, was so full of ideas that it barely mattered. The energy and talent of the five primary players were astonishing for ninety minutes, with no intermission.

Reviews

The New York Times review calls Spamilton “convulsively funny”. The Huffington Post raves “you don’t have to see Hamilton to have side-splitting fun at Spamilton.” True, but it DOES help to be at least familiar with the Tony-winning musical. Here’s a preview clip. The show will be in Kansas City, MO, and Greenville, SC, in the coming weeks.

Incidentally, my wife and I also attended a lecture on September 29 at Siena College. Hamilton: How the Musical Remixes American History by Richard Bell, a history professor from Maryland was presented by the Albany Institute of History and Art.

Bell is a HUGE fan, yet he noted the shortcomings of Miranda’s work, notably the role that women played. She suggested that Hamilton failed the Bechdel Test in that the women in it who talk to each other, mostly talk about a man, the named character. It may be an overly simplistic metric, but it is a tool.

The Waitress phenomenon

Larry Dallas

christine dwyer
Christine Dwyer
When I was still working, there was a woman in one of the other departments in my building who was obsessed with the musical Waitress. She had seen it more than once on Broadway and had selfies with members of the cast. When it hit Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, she saw the touring show.

But she also had a Waitress cookbook and even promised to bake me a pie before I retired. (She tried to, but the pie failed, so she bought me one.)

When my wife, daughter and I saw it back in June, I thought it was… fine. Pleasant. It reminded me structurally to the TV show Alice. Alice never fell for her gynecologist, as Jenna (Christine Dwyer) did, though. Becky, the black waitress (Melody A. Betts), reminded me of the white, wisecracking Flo on the TV show. The timid Dawn (Ephie Aardema) is not dissimilar to the flaky Vera.

Even the diner managers, Mel, and Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin) were guys with rough exteriors but with hearts of gold. Odd that I didn’t get that deja vu feeling with the movie.

All she found was Earl

In the musical, Jenna’s abusive and controlling husband Earl (Jeremy Woodard) made my daughter extremely uncomfortable. In both stage and screen, Earl reminded me of the villain in the Dixie Chicks’ video for Goodbye Earl with Jane Krakowski, Dennis Franz, and Lauren Holly.

Another difference is that in Waitress, the actual diner owner was an older man named Joe, played in the show I saw by Richard Kline. You may remember Kline best from the sitcom Three’s Company as Larry Dallas.

The most interesting/bizarre character in Waitress is Ogie (Jeremy Morse), who is wooing Dawn. A local reviewer suggested that he seemed to belong in another play entirely, he was so off the wall. He was the most entertaining part of the production.

Waitress opened on Broadway on April 24, 2016, and has over 1450 performances. But it will close on January 5, 2020. Several people I’ve actually heard of have played Jenna, including Sara Bareilles, who wrote the serviceable music, and former American Idol contestants Katharine McPhee and Jordin Sparks. Meanwhile, the touring show continues through at least mid-2020.

Musical review: SpongeBob SquarePants

The dance will remind old-timers of Tommy Tune

SpongeBob SquarePantsThe first show in the 2019-2020 Proctors Theatre package in Schenectady, NY was SpongeBob SquarePants. I could have traded in the ticket for another show not in the subscription series, but I decided to see it.

In case you’re unfamiliar, SpongeBob SquarePants is an American animated comedy television series. It was created by Stephen Hillenburg, a marine science educator, and animator, who died in November 2018. “The series chronicles the adventures and endeavors of the title character and his aquatic friends in the fictional underwater city of Bikini Bottom.”

I went alone on a Thursday afternoon, in part because that is the cheapest time to go. Did I mention I was retired? The house was maybe 2/3s full. I suspect some of my fellow retirees opted out.

Before writing this, I explained the highlights to my wife. “Oh, I heard a guy on the radio who pointed out the same things that you liked.” Being the lazy blogger I am, I quickly found Bob Goepfert’s review for The Troy Record that she heard on WAMC.

“I actually enjoyed the cleverly staged mountain climbing sequence.” This is actually quite extraordinary visually, with our title hero hanging upside down on a ladder more than once. And the look, in general, is a lot of fun.

“There’s a sensational tap number that lasts for about 8 minutes that is breathtaking. Performed by the tall and lanky Cody Coolie (who plays Squidward) the dance will remind old-timers of Tommy Tune… ‘I’m Not a Loser,’ by They Might Be Giants was made meaningful by the already mentioned tap number.

“[T]he musical uses the tale of friendship and heroic actions to teach some fine values – like believing in yourself, being a loyal friend, trusting in individuality and encouraging diversity.” It also addressed fearmongering among politicians, cult followings, and panic.

Avoidance

I enjoyed it far more than Goepfert did, and he’s explained why: “Over the years, no matter how much they begged or cajoled, I avoided watching a single episode of the Nickelodeon television cartoon series with my grandchildren. I refused to go with them to any of SpongeBob films, and they knew better than to ask me to take them to the musical when it played on Broadway. Seeing the show on Wednesday evening at Proctors proved I was right.”

I had wondered right after seeing the show whether someone who was not familiar with the cartoon could make the transition to the stage version. With a now teenaged daughter, I’ve seen more than my share of episodes.

SpongeBob was not in a sponge costume, but rather wore a shirt, tie and shorts. Squidwardhad a pair of slacks and shoes, and another pair of same attached to the back. It’s easier to appreciate that if you can see the cartoon visual in your mind.

That said, the second act was stronger than the first. I first became really involved when Pearl the Whale, the daughter of Mr. Krabs, played by Meami Maszewski, sang Daddy Knows Best in Act 1.

Before the show even began, there were cast members playing some Hawaiian music with a slide dulcimer, fiddle, kazoos, and various sound effects, played by the guy who was also onstage for much of the actual show.

Proctors Theatre was the first stop on the tour for SpongeBob SquarePants, and I suspect the show will only get better. Here’s a favorable review in Nippertown. It’s not Fiddler on the Roof, which is briefly referenced, but it should be entertaining when it comes to a theater near you.

Alexander Hamilton: “Just you wait”

the world turned upside-down

hamilton logoBy our calculations, my family has listened to the original cast recording of the musical Hamilton a minimum of 250 times in the past four years. This is not an exaggeration, and for my daughter, who had it on REPEAT as she went to bed, probably a vast undercount.

She knew/knows all the actors in the original cast and which roles they played. She has books, pictures, calendars about that production. For her part, my wife has finished the lengthy Ron Chernow book that Lin-Manuel Miranda read which eventually led to the musical.

We’ve watched Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance at the White House Poetry Jam Writer on May 12, 2009, accompanied by Alex Lacamoire. This was Six Years Before the Play Hit the Broadway Stage.

We’ve seen, more than once, Hamilton’s America which debuted on October 21, 2016 as part of PBS’s “Great Performances”. We viewed the Tonys when the pop culture Broadway phenomenon won 11 of the 16 Tony Awards® for which it was nominated.

The creators received a special award at the Kennedy Center Honors. We’ve listened to the Weird Al parody.

And around Albany, NY, in particular, there’s the Hamilton Effect, with several sites of significance to him and especially the Schuylers, the family he married into. The Albany Institute of History and Art has an exhibit The Schuyler Sisters and Their Circle right now.

By coincidence, the Park Playhouse in Albany staged a production of In the Heights in July, Miranda’s FIRST Tony-winning musical. My wife and I enjoyed the show, puzzled by a local critic’s dis of the lead’s performance.

When we knew that Hamilton was coming to Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, we bought three tickets each for the six shows in the package, back in May of 2018. (We had purchased two season ticket the year before, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch.) We weren’t going to throw away our shot at seeing the show. The wait seemed interminable.

Finally, it’s H-day, August 18. My wife switches out her purse because large, non-clear ones are banned.

For a piece I already know so well, will it be as enjoyable as I anticipated? The answer is an enthusiastic YES. This in spite of the fact that they used a standby, Wonza Johnson, usually played by Edred Utomi, for the title role.

My buddy Amy Biancolli wrote on Facebook: “It’s more than a musical. It’s an opera and a ballet and a discourse on grief and a thrilling, epic poem on the arc and nature of history. And it’s hilarious. And mesmerizing. And infectious. And moving.”

I did learn there are a few spoken-word bits in the story. My wife picked up on some plot points. I don’t think I cried more than three or four times. I’m convinced that understanding the libretto beforehand enhances the appreciation of the story. Even before the performance, Hamilton has been firmly lodged in my Top Five favorite musicals, along with West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof.

Musical review: Finding Neverland

Note that we’re not looking for historical accuarcy here.

Finding Neverland is the story about how James Matthew Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe) wrote the story of Peter Pan by befriending a widow, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Lael Van Keuren) and her four boys. One of the boys is named Peter, and the death of his father had damaged his sense of childlike wonder.

Barrie too had gotten all grown up, married to a high society-minded woman, having fancy dinners with snooty people such as Mrs. du Maurier (Broadway working actress Karen Murphy), and in need of writing another successful piece for a theater impresario, Charles Frohman (John Davidson – yes, THAT John Davidson) and his troupe.

(I’ll admit I love the stunt casting in these touring shows that my wife and I see at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. I didn’t recognize Davidson straight off – his hair is much whiter than when I watched his TV show decades ago – but he was a solid performer, as was Adrienne Barbeau from Maude in Pippin a few seasons back.)

Barrie discovers he needs to find his own sense of adventure. And – no spoiler here – he finds it, with Frohman the inspiration for Captain Hook. Indeed, the Frohman character BECOMES Hook, taunting/inspiring the writer. Note that we’re not looking for historical accuarcy here.

The production features music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, based on the book by James Graham. It was all quite serviceable to the plot, with a few pretty good songs. But I will admit that I got a bit misty-eyed at the end of the penultimate scene. It was one of the best payoffs I’ve experienced in seeing theater. If it’s touring in your area, I recommend it.

We did see the movie, also based on the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee. back in 2004 or 2005, with Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, and Julie Christie. I remembered enjoying it, but this iteration, I believe, had a more of an emotional wallop.

Finding Neverland, the musical, ran on Broadway for 565 performances in 2015 and 2016, with Matthew Morrison, the teacher from the TV show Glee, as Barrie; Kelsey Grammer, who starred as Frasier on TV, as Frohman; and Carolee Carmello as Mrs. du Maurier. Morrison and Carmello were nominated for Tonys but did not win.