Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is close to three hours long and what was my first instinct to write? Honestly? It was, “Eh” … Seriously … but Eh, does not constitute a review. Let me put some meat on those bones. Eh is not all bad. Eh is an expression of mild disappointment after almost two years of not having set foot in a theater, of having gotten all of my entertainment from the den couch. Here I was going to what has been billed as a Westend hit. My hopes were high. But I come out and say to my companion … “eh.” … OK, I said more than that.
The music is pleasant enough. The young cast dances exuberantly, but we did not emerge from the theater wanting to dance. I tapped my foot during the performance, but, despite the sense that all the tunes were sort of familiar, I could not have hummed one if my life depended upon it. The music is formulaic and the lyrics are repetitious. The Ahmanson acoustics are notoriously challenging for the spoken or sung word and the heavy Suffolk accents of many of the players compounded the challenge. I was so afraid I had missed something profound that the next day I watched the Amazon film of the story. It is not a film of the theater production but they track pretty closely. Little was lost in the translation so back to the stage.
The story is based on a BBC documentary about a boy named Jamie whose dream was to go to his senior prom in drag. His mother was amazingly, maybe blindly, supportive of his ambition. His father had checked out of both of their lives over Jamie’s open homosexuality and interest in women’s clothes. According to the play and film Margaret, the mom (Melissa Jacques), scratched together whatever money she could to help Jamie (Layton Williams) realize his ambition, rarely acknowledging the hurtles he would face in life. It is unconditional love with an amazing valence. He wanders into a shop for drag queen couture meeting the proprietor, Hugo (Roy Haylock), who becomes a mentor and support for the youngster who is not as superbly self-confident as he projects. At school he is, not surprisingly, the object of derision. Kids are a tough crowd and they only become more so in adolescence. Jamie has an unlikely friend, Pritti Pasha (Hiba Elchikhe), a Muslim girl in hijab . She too is the object scorn by the other students but has superb self confidence strengthened by her goal of becoming a doctor. She has the same kind of blind faith in Jamie as his mom, though she is a bit more sensible. She gets through the day focusing beyond the nonsense of a group of kids who are going nowhere, We know they are going nowhere because the setting is the classroom of Miss Hedge (Gillian Ford) a career development teacher. They have little interest beyond prom night and Miss Hedge points out to them various low level jobs they are headed for.
Layton Williams is charismatic as Jamie. He lights up the stage as he vamps through most of his day. Roy Haylock is (in real life) also Bianca Del Rio, a renowned drag queen who gained fame on RuPaul’s Drag Race. He is both fabulous (what other word can I use) as the drag queen and sensitive as Jamie’s mentor. You can guess what happens when Jamie does a trial run in drag at a local LGBTQ pub which his classmates crash.
Life is not going to be easy for Jamie, various adults mention the hurtles and try to stop him from acting out his fantasy. But the main message is a Joseph Campbell-esque “follow your passion.” Though beaten down by the prohibition to not come to the prom as a drag queen, Jamie shows up in a subdued dress and says “I’m just a boy in a dress.” He is clear he is not trans, but there is a sadness when he accepts the realities of the path he has chosen. Not so believable are the kids suddenly rallying to his support when Miss Hedge says he cannot come in to the prom. It is a musical and some people think that means a treacle like ending.
Yes there is lots more. But a very serious thread is woven into a too long tale buoyed up with hijinks. Perhaps the “Eh” is the result of the hyperactive interpretation. Or maybe it has to do with gasping for air after taking off our masks having emerged from the overcrowded theater. Yes it is entertaining for the most part and I was starving for live entertainment. But I dare you to remember much in a week or two.