When Tom Macrae and Dan Gillespie Sells’ dynamic coming-of-age musical burst on to the scene in 2017, it quickly gained a reputation as the show that everybody was talking about.
Merseyside audiences became the latest regional crowd to get a taste of this theatrical triumph when the UK Tour of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie landed at the Liverpool Empire last week.
Based upon the true-life story of schoolboy and aspiring drag queen Jamie Campbell, the musical charts a tale packed full of adversity, acceptance, and a whole lot of sass.
Although Campbell’s life is the inspiration behind the narrative, several details – including his surname – have been changed for the stage show.
A non-stop whirlwind
From the moment the first strains of perhaps the musical’s most iconic number – ‘And You Don’t Even Know It’ – ring out through the auditorium, the show is a non-stop whirlwind of all-singing, all-dancing brilliance.
As 16-year-old Jamie New (Layton Williams) dreams of life beyond the somewhat suffocating confines of his Sheffield school, his pragmatic Careers teacher Miss Hedge warns him that he needs to ‘keep it real’.
Jamie, however, has other plans.
When he confesses his dreams of drag superstardom to brainy but bashful best friend Pritti (Sharan Phull), Jamie devises a plan to attend his school prom in a dress.
Of course, there are a number of obstacles in his way. So, with guidance from faded drag icon Loco Chanelle (Bianca Del Rio), Jamie must battle the prejudices of narrowminded peers like Dean Paxton (George Sampson) – and even his own father (Cameron Johnson) – in his quest to become his most authentic self.
Poignancy and empowerment
Williams, perhaps best known for starring in ‘Bad Education’, is sublime as Jamie. He expertly navigates the vocal and dramatic challenges of the role. Notably, his performance of ‘The Wall in My Head’ strikes the perfect balance between poignancy and empowerment.
RuPaul’s Drag Race Alum Del Rio (otherwise known as Roy Haylock) undoubtedly garnered the biggest cheers of the night.
She brings swathes of her trademark tongue-in-cheek wit to the role of Hugo/Loco Chanelle.
Although the American is not the strongest singer, she more than makes up for it with her larger-than-life characterisation and impeccable comic timing.
The standout vocal performance comes from Amy Ellen Richardson as Jamie’s ever-supportive mum Margaret.
Her rendition of ‘He’s My Boy’, is incredibly moving and she brings the house down with her powerhouse vocals.
A special mention should also go to Shobna Gulati.
She steals the show as Margaret’s no-holds-barred best friend Ray, reprising her role from the feature film which was released earlier this year.
Macrae and Gillespie Sells have created a catchy score full of toe-tapping company numbers as well as emotive ballads. Katie Prince’s slick choreography, delivered flawlessly by the cast, really elevates the music.
Former Britain’s Got Talent Winner, George Sampson, also gets a brief but well-received break-dancing cameo.
Anna Fleischle’s contemporary set design allows the stage to seamlessly transform into a variety of locations, with a number of captivating visual effects bringing the musical bang up to date.
Bursting with warmth and wit
My biggest criticism is that there were a few moments, particularly during the high-energy group numbers, where the lyrics were lost amongst the music and choreography.
However, this didn’t detract from what was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of theatre and a show that is bursting with warmth, wit and pizazz.
For more information about the UK Tour of ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’, click here.