Based on the BBC Three documentary ‘Jamie: Drag Queen at 16’, ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ is a musical version of his story, which celebrated it’s one year birthday at the Apollo theatre this week.
Culminating in Jamie’s school prom, which he attends in a dress, the show charts Jamie’s struggle towards self acceptance and the reactions of the local community to a sixteen year old who wants to be a drag queen. Although an enjoyable and somewhat admirable subject matter, a boy wearing a dress is not the weightiest topic to fill two and a half hours and it shows here: the piece is cushioned and stretched to near bursting.
This is not to say that the show isn’t enjoyable: on the contrary, there are laugh-out-loud moments and some songs that truly soar, but I can’t help thinking that this story could be told in one act with no interval.
The mostly young cast do shine though, with John McCrea in the title role particularly fabulous. McCrea has an effortlessly soaring voice and the perfect balance of camp irreverence and vulnerability. Rebecca McKinnis, who plays Jamie’s mother Margaret, is also wonderfully cast and does a beautiful job of expressing the high and lows, hopes and fears of raising a child, especially one who is so potentially vulnerable to the less tolerant amongst us. Michelle Visage (a personal heroine from her work on ‘Drag Race’) does her best with the thin character she’s been given and lulls us in to a false sense of security with her first few lines of flawless Sheffield dialect, but it’s clear quite soon after that mastering the accent is an ongoing struggle!
Songs, with music by The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells and lyrics by Tom MacRae are somewhat hit and miss. Some songs do nothing to drive the story forward and rather just give characters the opportunity to share their inner monologue for a few minutes. Nevertheless, I left the show humming the catchy title number, ‘He’s My Boy’ is a beautiful ode to parenthood and ‘My Man, Your Boy’ struck an emotional chord as a mother son duet. Elsewhere songs feel laboured and clunky: especially ‘The Legend of Loco Channel’ which to my mind was a totally pointless diversion, inserted to perhaps add a bit of colour and oomph but achieving neither.
The book, also by MacRae, screams first time musical – at times the dialogue sounds forced and unreal, segue-ways into musical numbers are as subtle as a brick and other than the central four roles of Jamie, Margaret, Ray and Pritti, the characters are largely one dimensional.
‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ is a light, fluffy evening at the theatre with its heart firmly in the right place. It’s encouraging to have a story such as this aimed at a mainstream audience and the fantastically diverse cast bring the flawed material to life. Yet as much as I rooted for our show’s hero, I couldn’t help feeling a little deflated as I left the theatre: I was hoping for so much more.
Reviewed by Jody Tranter
Photo: Matt Crockett