REVIEW: Everybody\'s Talking About Jamie - Original London Cast
Almost a year into its West End run, which followed a tryout production in Sheffield in 2017, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is now established as a hit. A performance has been broadcast live to cinemas, a film adaptation is on the way, and a London cast album (supplanting the concept album released to accompany that first production in Sheffield) has been available in the UK for a few months now. It’s finally getting a US release, which will hopefully introduce Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae’s wonderful score to a significantly wider audience.
It’s a handsome package, with a terrific booklet including a well-chosen selection of production photographs and all the lyrics (perhaps a good idea for an American audience given the broad South Yorkshire accents inherent in the show’s working-class Sheffield setting). The concept album showcased some marvellous songs; good as they sounded when (mostly) performed by Sells himself, they come across far better here. There’s been a little bit of tinkering with the score between Sheffield and London – At 16, one of the catchiest numbers in the Sheffield production, has been replaced with Limited Edition Prom Night Special, which isn’t necessarily a better song but makes a stronger statement in terms of the show’s plot. Otherwise the material included on the concept album is all here, along with the chunks of the score not included on the earlier recording, which gave the incorrect impression that the second half of the show consisted of a sequence of maudlin ballads. It’s a great-sounding album too, with eight additional musicians on top of the nine heard in the theatre – lavish for this kind of pop score – and production that captures the gorgeous, vivid performances from the London cast.
Top of the bill, and apparently leaping out from the album cover, is John McCrea, in a star-making performance in the title role. As Jamie New, the teenager who dreams of being a drag queen, and who over the course of the show’s plot has to learn to negotiate the space between the combative drag-queen persona he adopts on stage and the person he is in his day-to-day life, McCrea is sensational. His light pop tenor is a perfect fit for Sells’s music (and not all that different from Sells’s own voice, as you can tell from the concept album); he brings an irresistible sense of fun to the so-catchy-it-should-be-illegal opening number And You Don’t Even Know It, and the moment his Jamie finds his power – halfway through Work of Art – is just as riveting on record as it was in the theatre.
Elsewhere, there is equally superb work from Josie Walker as Jamie’s mother – her He’s My Boy, a much better song than you’d guess from the rather trite title, is the album's most spectacular vocal performance – as well as from the gloriously brassy Mina Anwar as family friend Ray, Tamsin Carroll as sharp-tongued teacher Miss Hedge, and Phil Nichol as Hugo, the drag queen who helps Jamie find his stage persona. Most moving of all, there’s the wonderful Lucie Shorthouse as Jamie’s best friend Priti. Amid the drama and exuberance of the rest of the score, Shorthouse's It Means Beautiful, Priti’s lovely, touching explanation of her choice to wear a hijab, is all the more effective for being delivered with such tremendous restraint. It's the quietest thing in the score, and it's worth the cost of the album on its own.
This is a marvellous pop score, and it’s delivered here by an equally marvellous cast and band; these are memorable songs, they deserve to be heard beyond this country, and a year and a half after I first saw it the show’s upbeat celebration of tolerance and diversity is more welcome than ever. I left the theatre after seeing the Sheffield production desperate for a proper cast recording, even though I bought the concept album in the lobby on my way out; now it’s here, it was more than worth the wait.
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Everybody's Talking About Jamie - 2017 Concept Album Everybody's Talking About Jamie - 2018 Original London Cast Everybody's Talking About Jamie Tamsin Carroll Phil Nichol Lucie Shorthouse John McCrea Tom MacRae Dan Gillespie Sells Josie Walker Mina Anwar It Means Beautiful (2) He's My Boy (2) Limited Edition Prom Night Special (2) At 16 Work of Art (2) Don't Even Know it (2) Toggle Additional (14)