The Theatreguide.London Review
Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Apollo Theatre Winter 2017-2018
Feeling a bit like a mash-up of Billy Elliot and Kinky Boots, and not quite as good as either, this transfer from Sheffield is still an upbeat, happy and tuneful delight – as prime an example as you could wish for of a Good Night Out at the theatre.
Jamie New is an openly gay 16-year-old schoolboy with two ambitions, to be a professional drag queen when he grows up and to go to his school prom in a dress.
And he does.
What is remarkable about the musical (book by Tom Macrae and Jonathan Butterell, lyrics by Macrae, music by Dan Gillespie Sells, inspired by a TV documentary about a real prom-in-a-dress lad) and a big part of its sunny appeal, is that practically everyone around Jamie completely supports him – so much so that the writers have to really strain to find much drama or suspense in Jamie's high-heeled march to happiness.
There's a homophobic and mainly absent father, the obligatory school bully and a teacher trying half-heartedly to enforce the rules.
But they are more than outweighed by Jamie's mother and her best friend who are his biggest fans, his best gal-pal (in a nice touch, a Muslim), the local frocks-for-fellas shopkeeper inspired to bring his own drag persona out of retirement, and the classmates with their heart-warming 'So he's gay. So what?' attitude.
John McCrea plays the lead with unflagging energy and authority, allowing no question from the opening moments that Jamie is a healthy, well-adjusted young man who just happens to enjoy wearing frocks and that nothing is really going to stand in his way.
(The plot requires Jamie to waver a couple of times, out of stage fright and desire for his father's approval, but you won't believe those lapses for a minute.)
It's a magnetic performance that makes McCrea a strong contender for Newcomer Of The Year.
Josie Walker gives solid support, and gets all the show's big dramatic songs, as Jamie's mother, Phil Nichol repeatedly stops the show, in and out of drag, as the shopkeeper-mentor, and Lucie Shorthouse provides believable warmth as the self-styled 'fag-hag in a hijab'.
If there's a weak link to the show, aside from the paucity of real drama, it's the songs by Sells and Macrae, which are never more than serviceable and not always that good.
None are memorable, and at a few points – notably Josie Walker's big numbers – you are aware of the performer devoting immense passion to a melody and lyric that really don't deserve it.
It might have been even better if there were more drama and sense of time and place, as in Billy Elliot, or more glitz and razzle-dazzle, as in Kinky Boots (We never do get to see the drag show, and the scene of veteran performers encouraging Jamie backstage is stolen bodily, without any of the original's energy, from Gypsy).
But if you want to spend a couple of hours in a fairytale world in which just about everyone loves just about everyone else and the nice boy at the centre gets all his dreams fulfilled, Everybody's Talking is what you're talkin' about.
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Review - Everybody's Talking About Jamie - Apollo Theatre 2017