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Review of Spamilton at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Spamilton – Forward to back – Marc Akinfolarin, Eddie Elliott, Jason Denton, Julie Yammanee, Liam Tamne by Johan Persson

“How does a whipper-snapper, student of rap, and a Latin / Trapped in the middle of a Manhattan flat / Grow up to be a hip-hop opera scholar?” So begins Spamilton: An American Parody. Given the wordiness of certain musical numbers in Hamilton, it is no surprise that a parody version of that hit musical should turn to Stephen Sondheim (Marc Akinfolarin) as a point of reference. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Liam Tamne), or at least this version of Miranda, finds a hole in this version of Sondheim’s advice – a call from the older composer to moderate the speed of the lyrics is answered by a take on the breakneck speed Sondheim song ‘Another Hundred People’ from Company – “another hundred syllables came out of my mouth”. As with the Broadway and West End sensation, this show is far from being entirely delivered in the styles of rap and hip-hop.

There’s no denying two things. The first is that, while anyone who has yet to see Hamilton won’t be completely lost by proceedings, this production is best enjoyed by those who have. The second is that this really is an ‘American’ parody – it’s the original Broadway cast, including Miranda himself, whose personas and mannerisms are replicated, rather than the West End company. At least the audience gets to know a little about the likes of Leslie Odom Jr (apparently pronounced ‘oh-doom’) and Daveed Diggs, who played the roles of Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson respectively.

For those who enjoy musicals, there’s much to be savoured. There have been, let’s be fair, some attempts at addressing a London audience as opposed to a New York one – the incomplete construction (or, more precisely, re-construction) work at the Victoria Palace Theatre when Hamilton eventually had its press night found its way into the narrative, for instance. No list of musical numbers was provided in the show’s programme, but what could only be called ‘Straight Is Back’, performed by George III (Damian Humbley), was a curious observation for the West End as well as Broadway. It wasn’t so long ago that both Priscilla: Queen of the Desert The Musical and a revival of La Cage Aux Folles played on the London stage at the same time. This season’s big musical openings, Bat Out of Hell, Chicago, Strictly Ballroom and Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, all have straight relationships at their cores.

The production keeps up the pace well from beginning to end, and there is something indeed to be said about Hamilton having a plot too complicated to follow, a problem I didn’t personally experience, but only because I’d read a 500-plus page biography of Alexander Hamilton prior to seeing the show. Indeed, the plot of Spamilton is borderline bizarre, and somehow manages to include Elaine Paige and Liza Minnelli (both played by Sophie-Louise Dann. The send-ups are, at least, enjoyable, if a tad cheeky. The best one for me was Julie Yammanee as Barbra Streisand, presenting an award for which Hamilton has been nominated. The show is entirely sung through (don’t say I didn’t warn you), with Simon Beck at the piano doing a splendid job throughout.

It’s not perfect, and every so often, to quote writer and director Gerard Alessandrini’s renowned revue, Forbidden Broadway, a punchline lands with a thud. Walking a proverbial tightrope between celebrating the success of Hamilton and making light of it, this is a short and bittersweet production that does not, so to speak, throw away its shot. “Raise a glass to theatre,” sing the cast during the penultimate number. More specifically, I raise a glass to Spamilton.

4 stars

Review by Chris Comaweng

Gerard Alessandrini brings his singular wit to the all-conquering musical Hamilton – in the words of its creator Lin Manuel Miranda, “I laughed my brains out”. Following the success of Forbidden Broadway, Alessandrini returns to the Menier to lampoon the multi-award-winning Hamilton, with Spamilton, which not only takes target at Broadway’s biggest export, but a host of the theatre world’s biggest names and musicals.

Described by the New York Times as “smart, silly and convulsively funny”, Spamilton makes its UK debut at the Menier Chocolate Factory, where unlike the Victoria Palace, there are tickets available – at a fraction of the price.

CAST
Mark Akinfolarin
Sophie-Louise Dann
Jason Denton
Eddie Elliott
James Hameed
Damian Humbley
Esme Laudat
Liam Tamne
Julie Yammanee

CREATIVES
Written and directed by Gerard Alessandrini
Choreography Gerry McIntyre
Set Design Morgan Large
Costume Design Dustin Cross
Lighting Design Tim Lutkin
Sound Design Gregory Clarke & Jonathan Everett
Musical Arrangements Fred Barton
Musical Direction Simon Beck

12th July – 8th September
Running time: 85 minutes with no interval

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