Everybody’s Talking About Jamie reverberates with messages for contemporary society where tolerance and acceptance are often drowned in societal and cultural mores. It’s the newest and brightest British musical on the West End today. All the elements come together to provide an almost perfect musical theatre event.
He taught me to fight, to knock back the black, to let in the light…he’s my boy.
People are definitely talking about Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and with good cause. It’s the newest, best and brightest British musical on the West End today. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie premiered in the Crucible Theatre at Sheffield Theatres on 9th February, 2017 but has been revised since then for the West End season.
It’s based on a true story. Jamie Campbell lived in a mining village and at 16 years old he decided he wanted to be a drag queen. This is the imagined story about how Jamie achieved his goals. It’s a roller coaster of emotions and though on the surface it’s about Jamie’s performing aspirations, it’s really about self-awareness, acceptance, tolerance and love.
The story about Jamie is the perfect vehicle for dramatic representation. It has relevance to everyone. To top off a cracker narrative, it’s a production that is sound in every way. Jonathon Butterell has directed a strong company and guided his two main actors in particular through a finely crafted piece with great energy and emotional commitment.
Tom MacRae wrote the book and lyrics and Don Gillespie Sells wrote and arranged the music. The resultant score sparkles with its symbiotic relationship of words to melody. The music is singable and remains with the listener long after the music stops. It’s modern, pop-oriented and with a good dose of musical theatre.
The narrative weaves through the music lifting the spirits and then dropping them like a stone. Dance is important and innovative. The ensemble numbers have complex figures and hip hop elements. The classroom furniture becomes an integral part of the choreography. A dance highlight is the unusual pas de deux accompanying If I met Myself Again. Jamie’s mother is looking back on the early days of her relationship with Jamie’s dad and the dancers take the role of the young lovers in a contemporary dance of great beauty. Kate Prince has produced exciting and fresh dance for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
Anna Fleischler has designed a stunning set that is as functional as it is visually excellent. The genius is in the fine details like the placement of the band in the upstairs classroom. It looks just like the average suburban High School music room. The set is a movable feast of walls that become screens to receive projected images or lights that colour and shape. Then they move to become the kitchen set.
Working with this set design are three other design components: lighting by Lucy Carter, Sound by Paul Groothuis and Video by Luke Halls. Each of these elements adds another layer of superb detail to this complex design and dazzles the senses.
The band is led from the keyboards by musical director Theo Jamieson and they produce the rhythmic foundation of the whole performance. This tight ensemble do justice to the arrangements of Sells, supporting the balance of the narrative in fine form.
Sitting atop this solid scaffold are the performances. John McCrea is Jamie. A true triple threat, McCrea sings and dances up a storm and then blows the audience away with his commitment to the drama as they ride the storm with him. In particular his two power songs, The Wall in My Head and Ugly in the Ugly World are outstanding.
One of the highlights of the show is provided by Josie Walker who plays Margaret, the mum. The audience is totally engaged with the struggle she has to shield her boy from his father’s judgements and when it all falls down in a heap the audience is pulled into the pit with Margaret as she sings out her anguish. He’s My Boy is one of those magic theatrical musical moments that undoes an audience.
The rest of the cast all have strengths and versatility. Jamie’s best friend Pritti is played by Lucie Shorthouse who really makes the most of this gift of a role. Her featured song, It Means Beautiful is purely delightful and an ode to the love of a true friend. Margaret’s best friend is Ray, and Mina Anwar lights up the stage with her energy at every entrance.
The authority figure representing the establishment is career teacher, Miss Hedge and whilst the teacher needs to be straight and forbidding, the woman behind the teacher raps her way through life. Tamsin Carroll gives the character real life, especially at the climactic end.
Opening both acts is the ensemble of school kids and they are gorgeous. The true diversity on stage is delightful to behold. The lightning quick dialogue of the opening scene sets a cracking pace in both acts. The bully, Dean Paxton, is played by Luke Baker who is suitably thuggish and overbearing until the end when his own tragedy is given its own moment in the spotlight. Paxton shines.
Providing support to the fledgling drag queen is the legend, Loco Chanelle (Phil Nichol) and her cohorts Laika Virgin (Alex Anstey), Sandra Bollock (Daniel Jacob) and Tray Sophisticay (James Gillan). Their scenes afford a glimpse of the world of the drag queen and provide great comic relief. The Act One finale number Over the Top is fabulous.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie reverberates with messages for contemporary society where tolerance and acceptance is often drowned in societal and cultural mores. This narrative proves that society is the winner when we get on, let everybody be themselves, and just do it…together.