Thoughts on 'Spamilton'

At this point, I am comfortable admitting I’ve seen Hamilton ‘more than once’. I have also read the accompanying book and the biography that inspired it, and listened to the Broadway cast recording far too many times. I’ve written at length about how the show has literally changed my life and I’ve got the Lin-Manuel Miranda cover of Rolling Stone framed on my wall. In short, I thought I was the perfect person to appreciate Spamilton, the parody musical currently playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory, which originated in New York in July 2016. It turns out I wasn’t exactly, and I’m not quite sure who is.

Gerard Alessandrini, the creator of Spamilton - and director of this production - has been sending up musicals since all the way back in 1982 when his smash hit revue Forbidden Broadway opened for the first time, and he is clearly good at it. This Hamilton parody is hilarious in parts, and has some truly laugh-out-loud moments (like when a red-haired little orphan girl appears at a certain line in ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Cries’, and when they point out that ‘One Last Time’ really is just George Washington’s ‘And I Am Telling You...’).

I have seen some reviews saying it’s a little too in-depth for the casual fan, who maybe has seen Hamilton once. That’s probably fair - this is a show in London in 2018, and if you’ve seen the West End production there isn’t necessarily any reason you’d appreciate ‘Daveed Diggs - The Fresh Prince of Big Hair’ or ‘The Schuyler Puppets’, which rely on heavily namechecking actors from the original Broadway cast.

That said, I was actually a little disappointed that the parodies and jokes weren’t more focused. The parody songs were a bit surface-level, not really taking the humour anywhere further than the joke in the song title. The moments I laughed the hardest were the really zoomed-in, esoteric jokes - a conspiracy theory about the Victoria Palace Theatre’s infamously overrun renovations, for example (although even that isn't partiularly niche, given the national press coverage). In the best parody musical I've seen, A Very Potter Musical, the creators are acutely aware that their audience is just as well-versed in the source material as they are, and they delight in leaning into the minutiae of the story. That doesn’t happen in Spamilton nearly as much as I’d have liked.

The comparison to A Very Potter Musical is a telling one. That was a fan-made, low-budget, student production, and at times this has a similarly haphazard vibe. That’s not a problem in itself, and certainly a stylistic choice, but when it’s at the prestigious Menier Chocolate Factory, and tickets start at £30 it feels slightly incongruous. Incidentally, the theatre's website boasts that "unlike [Hamilton], there are tickets available - at a fraction of the price" - a bit galling when I've seen the other show for £20.

This is not a lovingly-made deep dive parody of Hamilton - this is a comedy revue about Broadway, which takes Lin-Manuel Miranda and his work as a starting point. It presupposes a level of general Hamilton knowledge that was probably very reasonable in the summer of 2016 in New York when the original cast was still performing up the road and it was an unstoppable cultural juggernaut in the city. However, it also requires a wide-ranging and eclectic knowledge of other musical theatre, parodying quite a few non-Hamilton songs that I didn’t recognise (as well as plenty I did - e.g. ‘Finishing The Rap’, a silly and perfect concept).

It’s worth mentioning that despite my slight misgivings about the content, the performances were phenomenal, in particular Julia Yammanee as almost all the female roles, and Simon Beck on the piano singlehandedly keeping the music afloat for 85 minutes straight. In addition, the small space at the Menier Chocolate Factory contains an impressive set, by Morgan Large, with laudable commitment to recreating the original (the moment with the ‘moving’ staircase was a particularly delicious visual highlight).

It just feels like, for me, the show doesn’t quite hit its mark - it doesn’t delve deep enough and aims too wide for the Hamilton superfan, and the more casual musical theatre fan might be left a little bewildered by some of the references. This was an enjoyable show with a very talented cast and many funny moments, but it suffers from not quite knowing who it’s for.

These are just my thoughts on it, though, and while I love musicals, and Hamilton, my knowledge is still very patchy at best (I have never actually seen a Sondheim show in full!). The final word has to go to a true musical theatre expert, and arguably the biggest Hamilton superfan there is. If it's good enough for Lin, it's good enough... click BOOM.

(Seriously considering ending all my blogs click BOOM...)