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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Menier Chocolate Factory


  Eddie Elliott, Jason Denton and Julie Yammanee/ Ph: Johan Persson

To borrow a Harry Potter reference, which writer-director Gerard Alessandrini’s tunnel-visioned spoof of Hamilton also does, Spamilton is definitely not for Muggles. Not only is it necessary to have seen Hamilton, you also need to be marinated up to your eyeballs in the rarefied world of musical comedy – as Alessandrini is. For the last 36 years he has, with rapier sharpness, been skewering some of Broadway’s biggest musical hits and flops in a series of successful in-your-face revues called Forbidden Broadway.

No musical is safe from his fearless parodic molesting, his mercilessly cruel send-ups and the demolition jobs he has performed on long-running British shows such as Cats, Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables. Though Spamilton is still basically a revue, it goes a step further. This time, while gleefully taking the mickey out of Hamilton, it attempts to show what a game-changer it is compared to the usual Broadway fare, with a special sneer reserved for the Disney brand.

But even then, Alessandrini's waspish tongue remains well in his cheek. In one of the show’s best parodies he has an effete George III eschewing the campery endemic to conventional musicals, and replacing it with a more masculine approach: “Straight is back/ It’s a cinch/ Hedwig put away his angry inch/ Now history is the subject/ The rigid, frigid, subject/ The metro, hetero subject.” If Hamilton is the hero of Hamilton the musical, the real hero of Spamilton is the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose breakthrough use of rap, R&B and hip-hop are equated with his protagonist’s own revolutionary fervour.

Yet Alessandrini has lost none of his scepticism. Quoting from the musical Company by Stephen Sondheim (whom Miranda has acknowledged as a great influence on his work), Miranda’s lyrics are parodied with the line “Another hundred syllables came out of my mouth” while also noting that chunks of the show are, frankly, unintelligible. It’s not so much a case of biting the hand that feeds you as having your cake and eating it.

Though several of Hamilton’s best moments are given the full Miranda treatment, as in "My Shot" (changed to “I’m not going to let Broadway rot”) Alessandrini frequently returns to Forbidden Broadway mode, spraying the audience with non-stop musical references from, say, Gypsy, Annie, The King and I, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and The Music Man to the more arcane Broadway Melody of 1938 featuring a delightful, full-blown parody of "You Made Me Love You," originally sung in the movie by Judy Garland. 

Another fun moment questions whether Hamilton is an even bigger hit than The Book of Mormon. And Harry Potter makes a brief appearance to petulantly tell Miranda, “My show is hotter than yours.” On such earth-shattering issues the world of Alessandrini pivots.

Whether a lack of familiarity with all these show-biz references breeds content is hard to say. What isn’t in question, though, is the talent Alessandrini and his choreographer Gerry McIntyre have gathered for the occasion. As if inspired by the verve and zest of the original New York and London casts, the company propel themselves into overdrive with Liamne Tamne giving a galvanic performance as Miranda himself, with Damian Humbley ably taking center stage as George III. Eddie Elliott and Marc Arkinfolarian complete the male members of the hard-working cast, with Forbidden Broadway regulars Sophie-Louise Dann (whose Liza Minnelli parody is the show’s high spot) and Julie Yammanee excelling as the trio of Schuyler sisters, J-Lo, Barbra Streisand and Beyoncé. A very special mention, too, to pianist Simon Beck, who, for 85 frenetic minutes, is the show’s solo music man.
Despite its homogenised, one-track mind, Spamilton delivers exactly what it says on the tin. But for maximum appreciation you really do have to be in the know. Lin-Manuel Miranda has given his seal of approval by claiming that he “laughed his brains out.” Well, he would, wouldn’t he? All the way to the bank.


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