Touring – until 30 April 2022
Reviewed at Liverpool Empire
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie bursts onto the stage in an effervescent whirlwind of unabashed vibrancy and fun. I caught the first Liverpool run for this production after several pandemic postponements – and it was my first time back in a full theatre since March last year. I’ll have to admit it – moments into opening number And You Don’t Even Know It and I was weeping with joy and smiling from ear to ear. This show is warm and welcoming, cheerful and sincere, and just makes everything alright again.
The Empire checks for NHS covid passports before entry, but up to this point few audience members bothered with masks and there was little chance of social distancing anywhere in the venue, so if any of that is still a concern, take note.
The big lure back into the theatre for me was the availability of Roy Haylock – one Bianca del Rio – reprising the role of Hugo and Loco Chantelle for the Liverpool dates. The RuPaul’s Drag Race star is an accomplished stand-up performer, and a chance to see this side of Haylock was a real treat. His professionalism, and passion for theatre, showed through every moment of being on stage.
While Haylock is an established talent, while it may not be strictly accurate to call Layton Williams an up-and-comer, as Jamie, he showcases an undeniable star quality reminiscent of Cynthia Erivo in her touring musical days. He will be big.
With real confidence and style he plays Jamie New, a schoolboy who dreams of being a drag queen; the first step on the way being wearing a dress to his leavers’ prom (all based on a true story).
With his best friend, his mum and dress shop owner Hugo (Haylock) to help him navigate his path, can Jamie find it in himself to show the world who he really wants to be?
Who are we kidding – of course he can. We know this from the off. While the show is easy to love, it’s not one for the cynics, being very much a musical-by-numbers that doesn’t get bogged down in too much nitty gritty where it can help it. The script can be a bit cheesy, and the obstacles to Jamie’s success – the two dimensional cruelty of his absent father, a stereotypical school bully, the unnecessarily overly-dismissive teacher – are all plot devices that certainly lack depth, but the cast does manage enough heavy lifting to get over it. (As an aside, I wonder if these things are handled more subtly in the film version.)
After all, it’s not a show about negativity but love, and at the heart of it all is a tender mother-son relationship – He’s My Boy and My Man, Your Boy packing a huge emotional punch in a sensational performance from Amy Ellen Richardson as Jamie’s mum Margaret.
It’s a well-worn path of the scrappy musical underdog, full of the sunshine of Hairspray and struggle of Billy Elliot, with a little of the council estate drama of Beautiful Thing in there for good measure. But Dan Gillespie Sell’s songs are catchy and memorable, and the strong ensemble cast help Everybody’s Talking About Jamie stand out from the crowd.
In a week of unremittingly bleak news in the city and beyond, the colour, charm and joie de vivre of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie was a reminder of all that is good in the world.
‘Warm & welcoming, cheerful & sincere’: @Vicky_Anderson weeps with joy seeing @JamieMusical, led by @LaytonWilliams & @TheBiancaDelRio at @LiverpoolEmpire. #JamieTour #theatrereviews