One of the best new musicals this year
It is with high expectations therefore that you enter the Apollo Theatre and you certainly are not disappointed. It is perhaps easy to worry that what you are going to experience is a little too close to the already hugely successful smash hit Kinky Boots as it tells the tale of a drag queen fighting against adversary in a quest to find acceptance of their own identity.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a huge success in its own right however, managing to feel fresh and vibrant despite these similarities. Where it really stands out is within the music, which is catchy, varied and fresh. The musical marks Dan Gillespie Sells’ first time writing for the stage, and the front man from pop rock band uses his varied influences and talent for writing catchy melodies to write a score which is both entertaining and memorable, marking one of those incidences where West End newcomers produce something far more exciting than you could ever expect from the now slightly crusty stage legends.
What many may not realise is that the musical is based on a real life story, with Sells having been inspired after seeing the 2011 BBC3 documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, which tracked the life of Jamie Campbell, a teenage drag queen in the unlikely setting of a former mining village of County Durham.
The musical, like the real life Jamie, is often unashamedly in-your-face camp in hilarious and moving situations that are truly brought to life by star John McCrea. Where perhaps his singing isn’t always pitch perfect, he easily compensates with exuberance of performance and the heartfelt delivery which is required to make you truly love the character and want him to succeed.
The supporting cast are equally good, managing to continually get enough genuine laughs to make the piece feel more like a comedy, with family friend and surrogate father, Ray, played by Mina Anwar, washed up drag queen Hugo, played by Phil Nichol, and kind-hearted best friend Pritti, played by Lucie Shorthouse, all offering delightful comic relief.
One of the biggest ovations of the night however comes from Josie Walker as Jamie’s mother Margaret, who has steadfastly raised him as a single parent. Often the solid centre of the show, her touching solo of ‘If I Met Myself Again’ is a perfect combination of Dan Gillespie Sell’s brilliant score and Walker’s incredibly voice.
What lets the production down however, are the villains of the story. To succeed, Jamie has to first battle against the rejection of his classmates, his teacher and his absentee father. Unfortunately, all of these feel to be set up in a rather caricature fashion, and when they are eventually overcome, the victory is somewhat diminished.
It is a small fault however in one of the best new musicals this year, with a brilliant score, incredible performances and hilarious moments, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a must see for any West End musical fans.
Reviewed by Shaun Millis
"A truly original pop-musical"
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is inspired by the 2011 BBC Three Documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 and sees Dan Gillespie Sells’ music marry up with television writer Tom MacRae’s book and lyrics. The pair have created a truly original pop-musical that utilises catchy songs, fabulous costumes and some impressive ensemble dance routines.
John McCrea plays the title role of Jamie New, the sixteen-year-old destined for bigger and better things – even though his careers advisor Miss Hedge, played by Tamsin Carroll, might disagree. Jamie and his classmates are told to forget dreams of becoming football players and pop-stars and to instead focus on getting jobs in the “real world”. Jamie on the other hand has other ideas, shown most evidently in the opening song "Don’t Even Know It", with lyrics such as ‘‘cause baby I’m the sh*t (and you don’t even know it) […] Yeah I’m a hit (and you don’t even know it)’.
What sets this musical apart from other West End offerings is not only the rock-pop songs and young, fresh and multicultural cast, but the topics it tackles: peer-pressure; bullying; being true to yourself – a plethora of angst-ridden conundrums that transcends teenage-dom and will have old and young alike rooting for the characters. One standout character for me was Pritti, (Lucie Shorthouse) an unassuming young Muslim girl with dreams to make it as a Doctor. It was really interesting to see a voice – and some lungs! – be given to a young, female Muslim and Shorthouse impressed with her strong vocals throughout.
McCrea also impressed with his strong character work and ability to be equally as sassy and fragile at the same time. A particularly moving song was "My Man, Your Boy", a duet between McCrea and Josie Walker who plays Jamie’s mother Margaret. Walker has a real skill at emoting a mother’s pain through song, although it would have been nice to have seen her character given some more upbeat numbers as she seemed to be the eternal ballad singer, with the exception of the song "He’s My Boy" which joyously crescendoed into an impressive power-ballad by the end, but a ballad all the same.
Whilst there were a few teething problems with props, set and fluffed lines, I thoroughly enjoyed the show and have no doubt that once the dust (glitter) settles, this London run will reach the level of slickness that was applauded in its Sheffield debut. I believe the novelty, catchy songs and fantastic cast will draw audiences in, because if you hadn’t heard: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
Reviewed by Megan Fellows.