Writer and Director: Gerard Alessandrini
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Forget the truckload of Tony and Olivier awards, forget the fact your show sells out for a year in advance, and even forget all those magazine cover appearances, you really know you’ve made it when someone writes a spoof. Gerard Alessandrini best known for the Forbidden Broadway series has created Spamilton: An American Parody, a cheeky satire transferring to the Menier Chocolate Factory.
When Hamilton opened in 2015 it’s all anyone in musical theatre wanted to talk about. Capitalising on its success and its creator Lin Manuel Miranda’s subsequent fame, Spamiltontakes a wry look at the key moments in the musical, its game-changing effect on the big Broadway show and, in just 85-minutes, also offers a potted history of Miranda’s early career. Alessandrini’s tongue-in-cheek approach is fast-paced, crowd-pleasing fun.
The show has a rough biographical structure as the young Lin Manuel (Liame Tamne) struggles to find a new type of show to stop the rot on Broadway. History and rap become his focus, making rhymes stretch as far as possible while the traditional forms of musical theatre fear his verbally dextrous and complex structure will be too much for audiences, as the song ‘What Did I Miss?’ parodies. Whether you’ve seen Hamilton or not, the references still make sense, and there’s plenty of affectionate sniping at the seriousness of the history plot with the song ‘Straight is Back’ about replacing the surface glitz of musicals sung by George III (Damian Humbley) – one of several Hamilton characters who make an appearance.
This continual cutting between scenarios from Hamilton that engage directly with Miranda as we learn about his story and interlopers from other musicals is a core feature of Spamilton, offering some of the show’s best moments. A repeated skit in which a disguised woman begs Miranda for elusive tickets reveals Sophie-Louise Dann playing impressive versions of Elaine Paige, then Judy Garland who sings ‘Down with Rap’ to the tune of ‘Down with Love’, and finally Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, a nod to Miranda’s forthcoming appearance in the Disney sequel.
There are some really clever cross-musical montage sequences early on, as the remaining cast – Jason Denton, Marc Akinfolarin, Eddie Elliott and Julie Yammanee – perform some hilarious and unusual musical pairing. You get to experience lyrics to Abba songs sung to tunes from Les Miserables and hear Elton John in Lion King mode as backing to The King and I in an inventive and entertaining sequence. Very little else goes unmocked, whether it’s the jealousy of the long-running shows or Miranda being inundated by pop stars including Beyonce, Gloria Estefan and J-Lo hoping for a duet, the crazy effect of a blockbuster show is well charted.
It takes a few songs to adjust to the speedy-style and to sync with the humour, but pretty soon, Spamiltongoes from strength to strength. In one particularly enjoyable sequence, Miranda writes a love letter to his hero Stephen Sondheim who gives him advice on songwriting, fitting in ‘Another 100 syllables’, a word buffet. Yammanee in particular, does some extraordinary work in delivering the pace required and the vocal range to cope with a Sondheim-like construction.
There’s no denying the huge effect that Hamilton has had on audiences on both sides of the Atlantic and while many still won’t have seen the original, Spamilton: An American Parody is a cunning alternative, offering just enough references for those in the know, without spoiling the plot for everyone else. Getting Hamilton tickets is still no mean feat, but boasting excellent and energetic all-round cast performances, Alessandrini’s silly and savvy tribute show will be a sell-out too.
Runs Until 8 September 2018 | Image: Johan Persson