Being into musicals as I am, it always excites me when one is broadcast live to cinemas, as I don’t get many chances to go down to London and take in a show. This particular one is one that I liked the sound of from the start, so for it to be broadcast live is a real treat.
I went into this one as blind as I could, avoiding the cast recording once I knew it was being broadcast, so I saw the songs in context first. I also avoided all other reviews to remain as objective as possible, so with that said, here’s what I thought.
16 year-old Jamie New has a dream; to be the most fabulous drag queen Sheffield has ever seen. But there are roadblocks in his way. Ignorance, bigotry and opposition faces him as he fights, along with his ever-supportive mother to be accepted for who he is.
As previously stated, I had deliberately exposed myself to as little information as possible about this show, in some ways a bit of a risk, what if I had let myself in for an over-hyped sugary show? Gladly though, I eat all of my doubts with a giant slice of humble pie.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a modern-day masterpiece. I don’t say this lightly, there are many shows vying for attention on the West End, and even more choice in cinemas, but this stands out as a shining diamond of modern day struggle and triumph.
Championing individuality and equality is something musical theatre excels at, perhaps more than film, and we’ve seen winning show in that mould before (Billy Elliot, Hairspray to a lesser degree) but this brings about a very modern struggle and one that, unfortunately, happens on our doorsteps to this day.
Another thing I must praise the show highly for is its cast, not only in its performances, which are universally brilliant, but in it’s diversity, all aspects of multicultural British life is on show here, and it’s refreshing and beautiful to see.
Of all the great performances, I could go on forever heaping praise on different people, but for now I’ll focus on two particular people who I think deserve specific praise. Firstly is Jamie himself, played by John McCrea, who looked as though he was born for this part, embodying Jamie’s sarcastic camp personality in every scene, his character work is the truly stand-out aspect of his performance. Secondly there’s Jamie’s mother, Margaret, played by Josie Walker, whose voice is both perfectly suited to musical theatre and to die for. She also has some stand-out character moments, mostly in the connection with Jamie, which is incredibly believable as a mother-son dynamic, it really makes their interactions pop off the stage.
I also think praise is deserved for the score also, with music by Dan Gillespie Sells of the rock band The Feeling, stepping into musical theatre was a brave step, but a step that paid off spectacularly, paired with the lyrics of Tom MacRae (who according to my research is also a musical theatre debutante) make for a memorable score, featuring songs that will stick in your head, and some which may stick in your heart. I think the fact that both men had never written a musical before deserves special praise given the strength of the score, which sounds like it’s come from seasoned pros.
Tom MacRae is also the brains behind the book of the musical, which is a script that changes from heartfelt emotionally charged scenes to whip-sharp witty comedy, and manages to balance both and not feel top heavy or inconsistent. Jamie’s journey is conveyed incredibly well from scene to scene, it could have leaned too much on either the emotion or comedy and felt like a lesser script, luckily it find a happy middle-ground and keeps a workable pace as to not lose the audience’s attention, the sign of a true pro, which MacRae is, being a veteran TV writer, however stage writing is a different beast completely, and a more seamless transition from screen to stage writing would be difficult to find.
Every aspect of the show all works together like cogs in an efficient clock, the school-age character are believable and gave me pangs of nostalgia from my school-days, the tone of the score suits every occasion, from upbeat pop opening number to heartfelt ballads from Jamie’s heartbroken mother, it all fits together so well and the tone never feels inconsistent, it earns every single emotional moment, and balances it with levity, it’s a difficult juggling act that could have ended horribly, but in the end the juggling acts turned out spectacularly.
If I had any quibbles, it would be that the school-kids seem a bit TOO lifelike, almost to the point of stereotype, but the thing about that is, stereotype is usually based on reality, if you’re around my age, I guarantee that you’ll recognise at least one of the school characters. Any criticism however, is insignificant in the shadow of the show’s successes.
If the previous 800+ words haven’t convinced you enough, I cannot recommend this show highly enough. See the encore showing at cinemas or make a trip down to London and experience it yourself, you will not regret it.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is booking at the Apollo Theatre in London until April 2019. An Encore presentation will be shown at select cinema’s on July 15th, 16th and 24th, check your local cinema listings for details.