Has there ever been a time when we needed a jolt of feel-good escapism more than right now? I went to opening night of “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” with more than a little apprehension amid the latest Covid surge and this being their first show back since suspending “A Christmas Carol” in December. However, I told myself that Broadway houses are open and, with strong protocols in place at all our Los Angeles theatres, I could count on my fellow humans to do the right thing in terms of making sure they are not symptomatic. There was an electric energy in the air the moment we stepped onto the Jerry Moss Plaza, a combination of anticipation for this West End hit of a musical along with what was surely a communal thrill of a night out at the theatre.
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” takes us to a high school in current day Sheffield, England, where 16 year old Jamie sits, bored, along with his classmates in a careers class. They’ve all taken an aptitude test and Jamie’s came back “forklift driver”. Meanwhile he secretly dreams of being a drag queen and wearing a dress to prom. Obviously not the conventional or easy choice in a place like Sheffield. With a decidedly disapproving father, bullies at school and not a mentor in sight, what’s a young boy to do? With one true friend, a super cool “aunt”, a retired drag queen legend, and a fiercely loving mum, Jamie sets out, well, to figure it out. The journey is a fizzy, pop-fueled delight with a powerful mother and son story at its core that gives it plenty of heart.
The effervescent score is the first for Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom Macrae, with Sells’ pop-rock background providing an incredibly catchy sound. It’s a dance party from minute one with the opening number “And You Don’t Even Know It” where Jamie fantasizes about becoming the next big thing. The energy along with Kate Prince choreography, mostly among the students, is absolutely infectious. By the end, the audience is on their feet, dancing, clapping and cheering…one has the feeling they would like to have done it sooner.
The performances are stellar throughout, starting with star Layton Williams, who has played Jamie in the West End production and on the UK tour. Making his debut at 12 as the title role in Billy Elliot, Williams has the dancing chops with extension for days, a crazy enviable ability to strut and dance in the highest of heels and charisma that jumps off the stage. He makes it easy to root for him because while he is fierce and fabulous, he is also raw and tender where he needs to be. It’s a knockout, star-making performance.
The show is inspired by a true story of a single mum and her son and the score gives Jamie and his mother, played with exquisite vulnerability by Melissa Jacques, their due with songs that inspire. Jacques gives a transcendent performance that, honestly, feels like the heart of the show. Her heart-pounding anthem of motherhood, “He’s My Boy”, in the second act, literally stops the show. Jacques blows the roof off the place and her role of Margaret is the best depiction of motherhood I’ve seen on stage since Rachel Bay Jones in Dear Evan Hansen.
Best friend, Pritti, is played with sweet spunk and sincerity by Hiba Elchikhe who beautifully sings the lovely song, “It Means Beautiful”. Shobna Gulati is the “aunty” you want in your corner and Gulati is clearly having fun and creates a nice, believability as Margaret’s best friend. George Sampson is a perfectly pitched ornery bully while Cameron Johnson pulls off the delicate balance of a disappointed and disengaged father with a glimpse of the man Margaret fell in love with.
Jamie’s “drag mother” is Hugo aka Loco Channelle played with over the top fabulosity and deadpan asides by Roy Haylock aka Bianca Del Rio. Rounding out the cast are Leon Craig and James Gillan as two mentor drag queens, Gillian Ford as teacher Miss Hedge, and an incredible ensemble of triple threat actors, many of whom were in the West End production.
This show tracks Jamie’s path “out of the darkness and into the spotlight” and is a celebration of fighting back and stepping into your true self. With the suffering and deep reflection that has come in these pandemic times, compassion for ourselves and others seems to be a lesson we need to learn.
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” runs through February 20, 2022 at the Ahmanson Theatre located at 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012. Tickets available through CenterTheatreGroup.org, Audience Services at (213) 972-4400 or in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office.
Center Theatre Group requires all guests to wear a mask and provide proof of full vaccination, along with a government or education issued photo ID upon arrival. Per the guidelines set by the CDC, “full vaccination” means that at least 14 days have passed since receiving the second dose of an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine. Booster shots are highly recommended and will be required in February for anyone who is eligible. Unvaccinated guests, including children or those with a medical or religious reason, must provide proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken no more than 48 hours prior to attending an indoor performance, or a negative rapid antigen test taken no more than 24 hours prior to attending an indoor performance.
Center Theatre Group will continue working closely with The Music Center and L.A. County officials to ensure they are following all applicable health and safety protocols. More information regarding safety updates as well as audience vaccination, testing and mask requirements is available at CenterTheatreGroup.org/Safety.