Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 gets a musical reboot – and it’s a sensation

Cast of Everybodys Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre

You know you’ve seen a terrific musical when, three-weeks later, you’re still singing a song you’ve heard just once. But even without the ear worms, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie hits the mark when it comes to successful new productions: a fantastic, believable cast, poignancy and a collective sense of elation as the curtain falls to a standing ovation.

Set in Sheffield, the play centres on the titular Jamie New, a 16-year-old who wants to become a drag queen. Based on a 2011 BBC Three documentary, we follow Jamie (played brilliantly by newcomer John McCrae) as he faces prejudice and setbacks for vowing to wear a dress and heels at his school prom.

Josie Walker Margaret New John McCrea Jamie New and Mina Anwar Ray in Everybodys Talking About Jamie Apollo Theatre

From the moment our protagonist enters drag store Victor’s Secret, the musical really comes alive. Here, he meets Hugo, a former queen with the alias Loco Chanelle. With the aid of a trio of regulars at the local Legs Eleven club – Sanda Bollock, Tray Sophisticay and Laika Virgin – Hugo teaches Jamie the art of drag: he undergoes a makeover, is ushered towards a box of rubber breasts and emerges with a new persona. But his newfound confidence as Mimi Me comes at a cost.

It’s not all about Jamie. Special mentions must go to Josie Walker, who plays Jamie’s unwaveringly supportive mother. She is in turns ferociously loyal and torn as she attempts to protect her son from the inevitable backlash. Her crushing performance of ‘He’s My Boy’ moved the audience to tears. Likewise Lucie Shorthouse is tremendous as Pritti Pasha, Jamie’s best friend. Teased for being Muslim, she acts shyly throughout, so it’s a shock when she begins to belt ‘It Means Beautiful’, transforming from studious schoolgirl to high-note hitting diva – with zero need for glitter and heels.

John McCrea Jamie New and Lucie Shorthouse Pritti Pasha in Everybodys Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre

This musical deals with serious subject matter: Jamie is bullied at school for being gay, banned from being himself, and his father is absent and homophobic. Yet throughout, the dialogue is razor-sharp, self-effacing and witty. Yes, there are parts of the plot that feel entirely predictable, but this West End opening is a joy from start to finish. It’s uplifting, full of hope and, above all, feels important and timely. As 2017 draws to a close, a little bit of Jamie is just what everybody needs.

Until 21 April 2018
Hospitality Boxes can be booked for up to four people, with prices starting from £148. Groups of eight or more can buy discounted tickets.
Eat & drink Temper Soho, Thomas’s Cafe at Burberry, Brasserie Zedel 
Photos Johan Persson, Alastair Muir

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