Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and (still) loving him. Ten years on from Jamie Campbell, a.k.a. Fifi la True, bringing his inspirational story to TV audiences, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has been turned into a hit West End musical, been adapted into a film and is now currently touring the UK. There have also been productions in Seoul and across Japan, with planned productions and tours in Australia and Rome, as well as a run in Los Angeles coming up next in January 2022.
Layton Williams, whose musical theatre career kicked off at the age of 12 as Billy Elliot in the West End and whose other credits include Thriller Live and UK tours of Hairspray and Rent, stepped into the high heeled Dorothy shoes of Jamie New in 2019 in the West End, replacing Noah Thomas and original Jamie New John McCrea (who won several awards and has since had a supporting role in Cruella). He has clearly been a big hit with critics and audiences as well though, as he continues to play Jamie in the current UK tour and will also fulfil it in LA.
However, while Layton is certainly brimming with charisma, confidence, sass and fabulousness, I must say when I watched the show at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre, it was actually some of the supporting cast that really shone. In particular, Amy Ellen Richardson as Jamie’s supportive and emotional mum Margaret, TV icon Shobna Gulati as bonkers and spunky Ray, and Sharan Phull as kind and fearless Pritti Pasha, all stood out – no mean feat when a character like Jamie is the centre of the show and who everyone is meant to be talking about. Former RuPaul’s Drag Race winner and now drag queen royalty Bianca del Rio (real name Roy Haylock) was also clearly a fan favourite as Jamie’s mentor Hugo, a.k.a. Loco Chanelle.
Bianca del Rio is also no stranger to theatre, having appeared in many productions in the US since as early as 1998. The role is normally portrayed by straight actors and TV legend Shane Richie is the current Hugo, though on a break at the moment.
Part of me wishes I had already seen this show before watching the film which is available now on Amazon Prime. While that was indeed a great, feel-good film, the atmosphere and vibe is always on a different level when it’s live in a theatre – no edits or repeated takes and no lip syncing to the tracks. Some of the hilarity of the one-liners and jokes or funny scenes were no longer fresh or the same after already knowing the script and what happens. However, it proves the script was still well written when the audience obviously found it funny and thoroughly enjoyed it, whether or not some had also seen the musical or film before.
On the other hand though, there were a couple of scenes where it makes you glad you’ve already seen the film. It may have been the distance of the seats from the stage, but for example when Jamie is trying to do his eyebrows or when he becomes Mimi Me for the first time, you can hardly see his face to make these scenes as comical or pivotal as they are supposed to be. It was also a little disappointing to not see Mimi Me’s first drag show at Legs Eleven after she goes through the curtain (end of Act One). This was however, shown in the film adaptation, where Max Harwood strutted his stuff to the fantastic Beverley Knight belting out a soulful disco version of Don’t Even Know It (which unfortunately has not been recorded and released in full as of yet). In the stage show it felt like a monumental moment in Jamie New’s life is skipped and the audience sadly miss out on it, making the first scene in Act Two when the school kids perform Everybody’s Talking About Jamie a little disjointed and disconnected with the audience.
The main issue Everybody’s Talking About Jamie overcomes as a new, original musical is the music. Many of the tracks have already become iconic, with memorable lyrics, hip choreography and catchy hooks, or known for their touching themes and bombastic vocals, namely the title song Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the Vogue-esque number Work of Art, Pritti Pasha’s heartfelt ode It Means Beautiful, and Margaret New’s swan song He’s My Boy. The latter track is a particularly beautiful and standing ovation-worthy moment as Margaret takes to the stage to declare her unconditional love for Jamie. And Amy Ellen Richardson gave it her all with an emotional, soaring vocal performance that had audiences desperate to scream and clap even before she’d finished.
Indeed, many of the songs’ subjects revolve around inner beauty and being more confident in yourself and I half expected them to break out into an impromptu version of Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful several times.
Layton Williams is no doubt a multi-talented individual with the star quality to take on the role of Jamie New as he embodies the character to the fullest, however admittedly half of the time it was difficult to hear or understand exactly what he was saying or singing. Whether this was down to his accent, diction, tempo (often singing very fast), vocal dynamics (sometimes a little too quiet but at other times more powerful) or a combination of all four is hard to pinpoint. It is, however, refreshing and realistic to hear many of the actors use Yorkshire accents even when singing (although the real Jamie Campbell is from County Durham, the musical is set near Sheffield), making it more honest and natural.
It is hard to believe that a documentary (surprising and intriguing at the time) has managed to turn the life of Jamie Campbell round to become a nationally and even internationally known star and drag queen, as well as an LGBTQ role model for many in just a decade. Very few new musicals like this based on real-life stories of non-famous people get this far in terms of success, but Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has shown it is entirely possible. And it’s done it by being down-to-earth and relatable. Of course, some parts of the show have been added to or changed from the real story, including some characters and their personalities along with the musical numbers. But ultimately being a story about diversity, inclusivity, bullying, self-image, self-confidence, self-discovery, familial love, friendship and acceptance, it resonates beautifully with audiences everywhere on at least one level or another.