When a musical hits the West End the audience immediately expects a level of quality that can be difficult for a new production to achieve. Everybody’s Talking about Jamie first opened in the West End in 2017 after an inordinately short turnaround from its original run and with the addition of several fabulous catchy new songs. With a moving book and lyrics by Tom Macrae, beautiful songs by Dan G Sells and the thoughtful direction of Jonathan Butterell this musical is continuously earning deserved 5 stars.
The musical follows the story of Jamie New, a boy from Sheffield who decided he wanted to attend his school prom in a dress. As a production it may be young (the London show opened November 2017) but already it’s clear it will carve its name in the West End hall of musical fame. Inspired by the true story of Jamie Campbell from County Durham which was featured in a documentary on the BBC, Jamie’s story captures the hearts of the audience as well as inspiring and encouraging people to love and embrace who you are. The musical originally debuted at the Sheffield theatre but was then spotted by Nica Burns who decided to give it a chance at the Apollo Theatre. Some of the original cast was retained and the musical went through some rewrites resulting in the finished piece we see today. With some absolute bangers in the song list and an enthusiasm and youth to the cast, this is a revolutionary musical to hit the stage.
The most significant thing about the character of Jamie New is his desire to shine, he wants to be fabulous, not to be better than anyone else but because he truly is special and just wants the opportunity to display his drama, passion and love of life to the world. There is something so vulnerable yet so strong about Jamie that he empowers audience members from all walks of life as each audience member finds something in the character of Jamie that resonates with something inside of them. The explored and beautiful relationship between Jamie and his mother is so powerful and on multiple occasions brings tears to everyone’s eyes – the story is told in such an honest, unassuming way that it immediately becomes intimate and personal in a way other musicals do not achieve.
Both opening numbers, in the first and second act, struck a punch and prepared the audience for the hilarity, sass and energy that was about to follow. ‘And You Don’t Even Know It’ was a wonderfully original opener with such personality providing all the cast (Jamie and ensemble) the opportunity to delve into their own personalities. It was songs such as this that showed each character’s depths and individual characteristics beautifully and helped give the musical an element of reality. Ensemble characters like Becca, Bex, Dean and Fatimah brought the school to life and helped flesh out the story giving the show a real feeling of High Definition.
It would be impossible to applaud the talent of the cast without mentioning several names who especially stood out (no mean feat in a cast of such caliber). John McCrea remains from the original production as Jamie bringing such power, soul and emotion that it will be hard to imagine anyone else in the titular role! Rebecca McKinnis has just recently joined the production as Margaret New and with little effort steals the show in her jawdropping rendition of He’s My Boy. The song reminds the audience this is not just a musical about Jamie but also the love between mother and son and Margaret’s unwavering support for her son who loves to express himself. Also new to the production is Lee Ross as Hugo whose character, Jamie’s fairy dragmother if you please, brought an appreciated element of sarcasm, dry humour and intrigue to the plot.
Shobna Gulati as Ray was wonderful in her role as Margaret’s friend and Jamie’s advocate bringing the backbone Margaret had sometimes lost in her struggles as a single mother. Ray, Jamie and Margaret’s song Limited Edition Prom Night Special is still stuck in my head and a perfect song to strut too. Finally, but by no means least, Lucie Shorthouse as Pritti was a woman after my own heart. Jamie’s best friend who isn’t afraid to work hard and play the role of the resident try-hard at school had a voice to kill for. Part of the musical’s charm is its unflinching ability to demand the best from its cast. Other musicals have a tendency to avoid assigning too many belters to anyone other than the main character whereas Everybody’s Talking about Jamie relishes in exploring all it’s cast assets showcasing the talent inside everyone. Shorthouse’s name could well be Powerhouse for the vocals she hides within are breathtaking – keep your eye out for her name coming up in some of the lead roles in other musicals one day.
Before finishing this glowing review it would be wrong not to mention my slight disappointment with the character of the school teacher, Miss Hedge. Originally portrayed as the careers advisor, the poor woman seems to hold many a position in the school – headteacher, form tutor – Hedge clearly isn’t well paid enough for her multiple services to the school. There were many obvious reasons to dislike Hedge – her determination to stamp out the individuality of Jamie being one – but I was disappointed that the creative team chose to show her as a bitter, lonely woman desperate to be loved as way of excuse for her actions. At the very least I would rather have left the auditorium wondering about what went wrong in Hedge’s life to make her so bitter instead of being handed a humiliating stereotypical short scene demonstrating her rejection and desperation in her personal dating life. Regardless of my faults with her character and the questionable portrayal of the machinations of a school in the show, Tamsin Carroll was enjoyable to watch and to be appalled by, Hedge’s redemption came towards the end and Carroll played her part well.