Gerard Alessandrini is no stranger to parodying Broadway musicals and now, the mind behind the Forbidden Broadway canon’s latest subject of parody is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. As someone who has listened to the cast recording more times than is probably healthy for any human, but has not yet seen the show, I was excited to see what Spamilton would offer me.
I was torn.
Technically speaking, Spamilton is a brilliant show. The cast is a high-energy bundle of talent. Simon Beck accompanies for the entire 85 minutes and Gerry McIntyre’s choreography is imaginative yet well placed on the arguably small stage of the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Alessandrini’s quick wit works well with his choice of stimulus; Spamilton’s book tackles Hamilton’s with gusto, encompassing all the key songs and moments from the show while embedding the events of Miranda’s meteoric rise to success. Liam Tamne makes a believable Miranda. Eddie Elliott’s Aaron Burr/Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr is as vocally captivating as Leslie Odom Jr. himself. Marc Akinfolarin and Jason Denton’s multi-roling is flawless and hilarious. And Julie Yammanee, with her intensity and impressive vocal range, is just as captivating as her fellow cast members.
And, as an added treat to the brilliance of the core cast, Damian Humbley and Sophie-Louise Dann’s pop-up appearances are always a joy to behold. Humbley’s King George III is fabulously camp and Dann’s impressions are seamless. The cast truly make the show what it is.
On the other hand, there are points where the show isn’t quite as successful.
The plot is flimsy: nonsensical at times and constantly confusing – perhaps to emulate Hamilton or just through an inability to properly commit to a pathway for the show. And it was difficult to tell whether Alessandrini was celebrating or criticising Manuel’s brainchild. It was as though he couldn’t quite decide, himself.
Now, what let me down personally was the feeling that Spamilton isn’t written for fans of Hamilton; it is written for musical fans that just happened to also have seen Hamilton. While switching between admiration and admonition, it feels indulgent from the position of well-versed Broadway knowledge.
The musicals to which Alessandrini alludes in the show are plentiful; most of which are instantly recognisable…to avid musical theatregoers. It bears remembering that Hamilton is most beneficial as a show to those who aren’t regular theatre attendees. Spamilton feels like a redressing of Hamilton that only those who are lucky enough to have experienced Hamilton (in its capacity as the latest theatrical trend) can fully appreciate.
Judging by the reactions in the room, the show is riotous, but I will admit that a lot of the more classic musical tropes went over my head. I could recognise an impersonation as an impersonation and a jibe as a jibe, but my understanding of the humour didn’t go as deep as those who were more clued in than I.
My issue with Spamilton is that it runs the risk of alienating the very people who would enjoy it the most…were it not so niche, which is so unfortunate because it truly had the potential to attract a completely new audience. However, like many musicals, it plays it safe with an audience completely at home in its world of Streisand and Sondheim.
Spamilton is a fantastic show if you are brushed up on your musical knowledge, but if you wanted to go purely for a love of its inspiration, honestly, I’d give it a miss.
Spamilton is playing at Menier Chocolate Factory until 8 September 2018
Photo: Johan Persson