Inspired by 2011 documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, Jonathan Butterell’s new musical follows Jamie Campbell as he fights the school bully, a concerned careers teacher, and a father that’s never worthy of such a parental title.
Drag is dramatic and eccentric but brave and empowering. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie uses these forces and drives home more than a boy wearing a dress. It’s the want for a young boy to wear as he wants and when he wants — without fear or oppression. If it’s the prom, walking down the street in heels, or even bringing himself to school without fear of rejection. It’s all here, and delivered to perfection.
The Feeling frontman Dan Gillespie Sells helms a musical score that fits as perfectly as Jamie’s dresses do. Bouncy pop songs split between the hilarious to the heartbreaking as it tries to voice everything Jamie can’t say or do. As Jamie goes in search of the love and validation his father never gives, Dan and the shows writer Tom MacRae use Jamie’s rejection to make him stronger. Jamie regularly fails and almost has his audience give up on the fight, but that stumble is why we care. We care because it’s real, and not just a show with big lashes and boots.
John McCrea as star Jamie New is, with every twist and pivot of his heel, perfection. Subtle yet strong but never too much. Jamie is loud and proud when needed, but humble and knowledgeable that not everybody is as far down the Yellow Brick Road of acceptance as he is. John, blessed vocally and never without a cheeky wink or glittering eye, hits the mark on every occasion — giving little wonder the great success of this show with him at the helm.
However, Jamie’s success doesn’t come through just his own being, but thanks to his encouraging mother. Josie Walker as mum Margaret is the reality check he, and we, need — coming inches from stealing the entire show in the second act. He’s My Boy a real highlight. Always supportive, her need to play both parental figures in Jamie’s life comes at a cost to her son, while giving him the strength he needs to soar.
Moving from the back of the classroom to the centre of his school prom, Jamie finds his inner drag star thanks to his close group of friends — mentor Hugo (Charles Dale), BFF Pritti (Lucie Shorthouse), and hilarious family friend Lee (Mina Anwar). As Jamie faces problems, they offer their encouraging hand of support — displayed in the form a musical number, of course! BFF Pritti of ideal vocal form and the best friend we all need in our lives.
Even those that stand in his way, in bully Dean (Luke Baker) and careers teacher Miss Hedge (Tamin Carroll) who fights for Jamie to not ‘rock the boat’, are the driving forces inside Anna Fleischle’s box of stage treats. While Kate Prince’s choreography is fresh but a little overused, Jamie really doesn’t need a routine. His entire life’s a catwalk, and he’s the fucking star!
La Cage aux Folles taught us about the empowerment of queer family life, and Kinky Boots teaches the joys of drag. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie uses all that while it displays the power of your own youthful being. The powers that hide behind taking your wildest desires and making those around love what they once used against you. It uses Jamie’s bravery and determination to empower you to want him to succeed — and it’ll break your heart in doing so.
Taken from the true events of a brave young starlet that stopped at nothing to find his runway, this glittering new queer musical soars (and struts) so perfectly that it’ll have us talking about Jamie for years. This is the great new British musical our country has been waiting for — and we’ve a brave young County Durham schoolboy to thank for that!
Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Crucible, Sheffield — 5/5
More information can be found here.