Why Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Firstly, I have to tell you that I left Everybody’s Talking About Jamie BEAMING. The songs have been stuck in my head for a month. This year I’ll definitely be including some of the songs in my teaching. In other words, I am SO glad I went to this show, and I really can’t stop talking about it. (Ask my friends!)
I hadn’t really heard many great things about this show – or many things at all! The music sounded quite teachable to me, with lots of solo songs for my students. But I had listened to the soundtrack a few times and wasn’t instantly in love. In short, I didn’t have high expectations.
So, maybe it’s not that big a deal when I say that my expectations were exceeded. However, that would be a significant understatement. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is what I hope the future of musical theatre looks like, and I’ll tell you why.
This article is my own personal view. I would be happy to discuss it further with you in the comments! To clarify, any external links in this article are there to help you, but none are affiliates – I don’t make any money from them.
Jamie: A Bright Future for Musical Theatre
7 Reasons to love Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
1. A True Story
The show centres around the story of Jamie Campbell and his mother, who were featured in a BBC documentary. It’s clear during the whole show that these are real people. Every character shows their complex humanity. This makes it extremely relatable, and sometimes heart-wrenching in its raw emotion.
It is common in musicals to come across overly-simplified, exaggerated characters, or stereotype-heavy characters. They can be difficult to relate to – think of characters like Freddy in My Fair Lady, Sweeney Todd, Daddy Warbucks, for example. In contrast, the characters in Jamie aren’t like this. Instead, they are the kids we went to school with, our neighbours, our friends.
Memorable moment: when Jamie has an argument with his Mum, and she sings ‘He’s My Boy’:
“Believe me, he don’t make it easy
He needs me, fulfils me
Then bleeds me but still, he’s my boy
He’s my boy”
2. Diversity, but not for diversity's sake
Secondly, this cast is so diverse. But not in that ‘oh look, how great is it that they made an effort to have a diverse cast’ way. Just in a very normal, this-is-real-life way. I absolutely loved seeing two Muslim characters in the cast, something neither overstated, nor brushed over.
This factor was particularly close to home for me because I went to a very diverse high school (which incidentally had a similar uniform to the costumes in Jamie!). As a result, I had the privilege of growing up with friends from many different backgrounds and cultures. Subsequently, I didn’t discover the extent of racial discrimination until much later. Shout out to characters Pritti (Sabrina Sandhu) and Fatimah (Courtney Bowman) for reminding me of my school friends!
My favourite song in the whole show was Pritti’s song to Jamie ‘It Means Beautiful’, where she talks about the Arabic meaning of his name.
“It means something that’s only yours to give, it means choosing the way you want to live, it means wonderful, and it means powerful, and it means true.”
3. A Fresh, Young Cast
What a joy to see so many young performers take to the stage together. A genuine energy carried the show and raw emotion burst through at several points. Above all, the performers clearly believe in the story they are telling. Moreover, the dancing and singing is excellent.
I was lucky enough to see the understudy Luke Latchman perform the role of Jamie. What a star he is, with so much potential. The role is a stretch for his young voice, to my ear, and some songs suffer slightly as a result. But he gave a powerful performance and managed any vocal hesitations very well. I have no doubt he’ll have a wonderful career, one that’s only just beginning (he graduated two years ago). He’s certainly on the path to grow into an outstanding singer.
In addition, these young performers are well supported by seasoned cast members such as Rebecca McKinnis (Margaret New) and Bill Ward (Loco Chanel). Some real-life award-winning drag queens add depth to the strong cast: Alex Anstey (Laika Virgin) and Daniel Jacob (Sandra Bollock), also known in their alter egos as Vileda Moppe and Vinegar Strokes.
4. Normalising and Confronting Taboo Subjects
I said to my friend as we walked out, I hope that’s what high school is like these days. That is to say, solidarity among students, acceptance of difference, celebrating being true to yourself, and standing up for what’s right. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie provides a great model for young people, and leads the way in culture change that I hope is already becoming the new normal. I even love that the class bully Luke (Dean Paxton) doesn’t get vilified, and is shown to be human too. Again, this isn’t overdone, it is just a normal – and very healthy – story. It’s the responsibility of the arts, in my view, to lead the way in making the world a better place. Jamie is certainly an excellent example of this.
Memorable moment: The scene before the prom, and the scene in the bathroom with Pritti trying to help Jamie practice drawing his eyebrows on.
5. An incredible collection of adult characters - good and bad
Margaret is the mother we all want. Ray is the pseudo aunty every teenager craves. On the other hand, the Dad is a waste of space, but instead of trying to change this, we just accept it and move on. Life isn’t perfect and not everyone is going to be in your corner. Meanwhile, Hugo/Loco Chanel is an awesome mentor figure, and his band of queens is hilarious. Miss Hedge, the dean and teacher, is complex and provides much comic relief. Most importantly, her dancing in Jimmy Choo stilettos was impressive!
These characters are not the stars of the show – Jamie is. But they provide a strong, mature, supportive backdrop to his story, and they all bring powerful presence to the stage. The emotional journey that Margaret in particular goes through mirrors Jamie’s, and is carried so well through her songs and dialogue.
Memorable moment: Confrontation in the principal’s office between Miss Hedge and Margaret and Ray over whether Jamie will be allowed to go to the prom.
6. Staging for the 21st Century
In addition, I loved the set. Instead of huge structures, clever rotating stages, expensive set changes and a million costume changes, the production oozes simplicity. The set changes between the street, school, home, dress shop and a few other scenes, simply through lighting, projection and a few mechanics. I’ve never been to Sheffield, but the Set/Costume designer Anna Fleischle really evoked a northern English town. The lit floor was a highlight (hah) for the choreography, and was used very cleverly.
Memorable moment: The paparazzi photos on the back walls during ‘Work of Art’.
Finally, I love that Jamie’s story is unapologetically set in Sheffield, England, rather than say, London. The accents were on point. Frankly, this Kiwi had to concentrate to follow all the dialogue, but I love that. Giving a voice to less widespread accents is important, particularly when for so long they have been erased by performing arts. In the same vein, the accents make the story more believable and relatable, because it feels authentic.
In a world where we are inundated with media from every direction, full of fake news and social media filters, authenticity stands out as an antidote. For young people especially, having role models and representation in the arts that reflect real people is essential. In short, authenticity matters, and this show sings authenticity from the rooftops.
Don’t act so samey
And don’t f*** with a boy whose name is Jamie!”
Go see this show!
In conclusion: Take your kids to see this show. Take yourself to see this show. It will give you hope for the future, and will leave you singing all the tunes for weeks.
P.S. Great news for those who can’t get to the UK. They are making it into a film. What a fantastic idea for distributing this beautiful story around the world!
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