Everybody’s Talking About Jamie sashays into the Curve Theatre, flashes a million-dollar smile, tosses it head and flings its feather boa, and struts right on out in its high heels to spread joy through Leicester.
The West End smash-hit is on tour and never has the country needed an uplifting, inspiring and diversity-positive musical more. The joy is in its message of acceptance, whatever your race, creed, colour, sexuality or predilection for sky-scraper red stilettos.
Jamie’s story – of braving mockery by friends and the local community to express his true self – is one that holds true for so many, whether they are bullied at school, crushed by expectations, or just struggling to find their place in the world. But the musical demonstrates – loud and proud – that EVERYONE is cool, no matter their background.
This tour is blessed with the energetic talents of Layton Williams as Jamie New. In a role that seems made-to-measure, he fills the stage with a fierce presence. But, much like his alter-ego, he also reveals his more vulnerable side in songs such as ‘The Wall in my Head’. His dry, comedic delivery is also spot on and it punctuates even the more serious moments with his ‘sass’. A high-voltage performance that is ‘en-pointe’.
Standing strong behind her ‘boy’ is Margaret New, Jamie’s mother and confidante. The heart-felt song, ‘He’s My Boy’, is an anthem for mothers everywhere who feel that overwhelming and unconditional love for their children. Amy Ellen Richardson is outstanding in her emotional, but vocally controlled, performance of this song. She perfectly expresses the desire to protect her son but the impossibility of always getting it right.
Jamie’s best friend, geek Pritti Pasha, is performed brilliantly by Sharan Phull. As a quiet and studious Muslim girl, Pritti is the target of bullying, but in seeing Jamie’s bravery, she too is transformed. Phull is entirely natural in her depiction of the hesitant Pritti, and her heart-warming rendition of ‘Beautiful’ is exactly that.
Shobna Gulati shines as the neighbour Ray, whose down to earth good humour and pragmatic approach makes everything seem ‘normal’. Her perfect comic timing delivers each line with maximum weight and earns her a roar of support from the crowd in the bows.
Drag queen Loco Chanel tells her own tall tale of creation and Shane Ritchie plays this larger-than-life character with aplomb. He embraces the sparkle and the glitz, looking entirely comfortable in a dress and heels, though his northern accent is occasionally a little wayward.
The ‘student’ ensemble brings incredible levels of energy to this dynamic show and are at the heart of it. The choreography by Kate Prince is fast-paced, street-inspired and fun, with much parkour style leaping and bouncing off school desks. A contemporary dance duet which accompanies Margaret singing ‘If I Met Myself Again’, is one of the highlights of the show for me, expressing the intensity and heartbreak of young love.
The concise and multi-faceted set moves simply from one scene to another, with the help of the ensemble in placement. Projections are employed subtly to re-frame scenes and panels of light turn the setting from terraced street to fantasy disco.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has all the essential elements of a successful musical. A great story-line, in this case, a real-life story. Great songs with catchy tunes, an uplifting score and plenty of toe-tapping, along with emotional big numbers, thanks to songwriter Dan Gillespie Sells and lyricist Tom Macrae. And dancing for days, with a fresh, modern take on ‘group’ numbers. But this show goes so much further, not only in addressing the themes of diversity and acceptance, but in reflecting so much of real life in the casting.
This show on tour will surely gather pace and find it’s true audience in the streets of our cities, because everyone can see themselves represented on the stage. Everybody will not only be Talking About Jamie, but shouting, celebrating and singing in the streets!