'Jesus Christ of Nazareth': 'Hamilton' parody goes viral

The Aussie Christian version of the epic musical

Move over Alexander Hamilton; Jesus Christ of Nazareth is still in the spotlight, thanks to a video created by Aussie entertainer and children’s author, Simon Camilleri.

Camilleri’s video went “viral” over Christmas for its parody of the song “Alexander Hamilton” from the smash-hit musical Hamilton. The homegrown, low-budget video has already had over 700,000 views on Facebook and 38,000 on YouTube, as well as 14,000 Facebook shares since its launch on December 19, 2020.

Camilleri also received requests to play the video in Christmas services from churches around Australia, the United States, Canada and England.

“It has been wonderful to see people not just enjoying [the video], but using it at Christmas time as part of their church services. That made it really rewarding.” – Simon Camilleri

“It’s very funny, really,” says Camilleri, humbly, about the video he made to open the Christmas carols service at his local church, Bundoora Presbyterian in north-east Melbourne.

“It’s very hard to decide what ‘viral’ means, but it has been wonderful to see people not just enjoying [the video], but using it at Christmas time as part of their church services. That made it really rewarding.”

Camilleri first came up with the idea last August, after watching the version of the Broadway musical Hamilton released on Disney Plus in July 2020.

“I had heard of it a lot in the past four years [the musical premiered on Broadway in 2015]. But I think, like a lot of Australians, we hadn’t been exposed to it really until it came out on Disney Plus. Then my wife and I sat and watched it and I was just really impressed,” Camilleri tells Eternity.

“I’m a theatre major, so I’ve done lots of productions before. And so the uniqueness of it really impressed me – particularly the use of rap with historical drama – and the story is really moving. No wonder it has gotten the accolades it has. The songs are also very catchy.”

“I was never really into rap, but I was just blown away [by this song].” – Simon Camilleri

Camilleri’s own version of the song was also a labour of love, taking him three months to write the lyrics.

“It was a real challenge because for me, writing a good parody pays a lot of respect to the original. I think a good parody really tries to sound like the original and has the same rhythm that the original has. No matter what sort of parody you are doing, it has to remind people of the original, as well as take it in a new direction.

“So I had to deconstruct, line by line, the song by Lin Manuel [Miranda, who wrote and starred in Hamilton]. I was never really into rap, but I was just blown away [by this song]. To go through and see the syncopation of the rhythm and where he rhymes the words, and then try to use that as a skeleton to match with my version was a real challenge.

“Sometimes I would be labouring over one line for days … And then slowly, piece by piece, it came together together over those months.”

One the highlights has to be Camilleri’s rhyming of the word “Mary” with “registary” and “dromedary”, followed by the quip “or a donkey, I don’t care, it was uncomfortable and hairy!”

“I have always loved writing parodies and I love hearing other people’s parody songs,” says Camilleri.

Other unique parody songs he has penned include “Mary Had an Evil Lamb” – a poem, “My Favourite Things … During a Pandemic“, “Let it Go” a Fart Parody and “Stay Away” (parody of “Stay Awake”). He is also a fan of poetry, as demonstrated in his children’s book When Santa Learned the Gospel.

However, Camilleri admits that he is certainly not the first (or perhaps the last) to write a Christian parody of Hamilton.

“My favourite was by Sam Allen, a worship pastor from a church in Texas ,” Camilleri wrote in Facebook post reflecting on the sources that inspired his popular “Nazareth” video.

“I’m not ashamed to say his video was an inspiration for mine, and I think it’s sad it only has just over 1k views. It deserves more. Check it out and give him a comment,” he continued.

“There is a mix of lameness to it. I was wearing silly costumes and wanted to make it feel a bit homemade, because it was.” – Simon Camilleri

While Camilleri spent a lot of time getting the words and rhythm right for his Christmas parody video, the opposite could be said about the rest of the production. The soundtrack was recorded – in his daughter’s bedroom cupboard – in only 15 minutes; a friend helped him pull together the video, with its many costume changes, in just over a day; and it took only a day to edit it the whole thing together.

So far the only criticism Camilleri has received about his video came after it was shared on a Hamilton fan club Facebook group – in a post that Camilleri enjoyed sharing on his own page:

“I thought that was hilarious. I thought it was wonderful because there is a mix of lameness to it. I was wearing silly costumes and wanted to make it feel a bit homemade, because it was. And so that was fine,” he laughs.

At the same time, Camilleri concurs that when it comes to Christian parodies, there can also be a fine line between humour and disrespect.

“The entertainment element is the packaging so that you can present the message in a way that people will spend the time listening to it …

“It is a balancing act. One example is me playing Mary in the song. I think that’s the first time my church has ever had someone in drag! So, playing Mary, I didn’t want to ham it up. It was naturally funny – me, unshaven, sitting and holding a baby, so I didn’t need to lean into it to make it funny. My aim is let the humour complement the message, but not to be a distraction from it.”

Camilleri certainly seems to have hit the mark with his Hamilton parody, with many on Facebook calling for his renditions of other songs from the musical. Following his playful suggestions, one song in particular – “The Tomb Where it Happened” (instead of the original, “The Room Where it Happened”) – seems to be the frontrunner for a possible Easter video.

“That’s my favourite song from the musical. And I have seen someone do ‘The Zoom Where it Happened’, which was appropriate for this time,” says Camilleri.

“The way I work with creative ideas is I often throw a whole bunch of mud to the wall and see what sticks … Hamilton was in people’s minds in 2020, so it was really striking while the iron was hot at Christmas. If it did it at Easter [in 2021], it may not have the same reach. But who knows? We’ll wait and see what comes of it.”

He adds: “But I do think Christians need to think creatively around Christmas and Easter, and to use them as opportunities to share the gospel.”

With Hamilton the musical coming to Australian stages in March 2021, just before Easter, Camilleri may just have been handed another chance to use to his new-found rap skills.