2 Gender-bending musicals speak to equality and inclusion

By Shari Barrett

Photo by Johan Persson ALL TALK—Roy Haylock, center from left, as Hugo/Loco Chanelle and Layton Williams as Jamie New share the stage with the cast of drag queens in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.”

The North American premiere of the West End hit musical EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE at the Ahmanson Theatre through Feb. 20 celebrates acceptance, belonging, the power of unconditional love of a mother for her child and how good life is when everybody is the best they can be. Inspired by a true story, this funny and fabulous musical centers on 16-year-old student Jamie New on the brink of discovering what he really wants to be in life: a drag queen! But how can a teenage boy in Sheffield near the workingclass Manchester, England, find the perfect dress to wear to his school prom? Layton Williams and Roy Haylock (also known as Bianca Del Rio, winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”) brilliantly reprise their roles as Jamie and Hugo/Loco Chanelle, the questioning teen and shop owner/drag queen who encourages Jamie to find his own style exactly how he wants to express himself in the world. And I guarantee when Haylock commands the stage in full drag as Del Rio, the gleam in Jamie’s eyes matches the joy in his heart in finding acceptance and beauty in living his own life. The inclusive cast of actors portraying Jamie’s classmates represent both the popular and outcast teens at every school in every town around the world. We get to know each of them in the opening scene staged in the classroom, led by Gillian Ford as their well-heeled teacher Miss Hedge, with the Year 11 students’ entertaining and intertwining choreography by Kate Prince utilizing movable set pieces designed by Anna Fleischle that transform from desks to a drag show runway and more. But perhaps the most startling set transformation occurs when a stage hand wheels a part of the set open to reveal the kitchen where Jamie’s mother and her friend Ray (Shobna Gulati) often chat about Jamie, both totally accepting and loving him unconditionally, which is more than his absent father (Cameron Johnson) has the ability to do. Jamie’s mother Margaret is played to perfection by Melissa Jacques, with her soulful belt bringing down the house during her impressive solos “I Met Myself Again” and “He’s My Boy,” with applause greeting her rapturous belting rendition of how every devoted mother should love her son. Another standout performer with an extraordinary voice is Hiba Elchikhe as hijabwearing Pritti Pasha, Jamie’s best friend at school. Her solo about Jamie’s transformation, “It Means Beautiful,” grabbed the full attention of the audience with its intensity and heartfelt devotion to her friend.

Other drag performers working with Del Rio include James Gillan as Tray Sophisticay, David O’Reilly as Laika Virgin, Leon Craig as Sandra Bollock who shake it up with the best of them – although the “tuck it” scene was a bit much for this reviewer’s taste. The 8-piece band led by musical director Theo Jamieson are seated on the second level of the set in full view of the audience at all times, other then when projections designed by Luke Halls transform the set into locations where scenes are being played out below. Ultimately, technical kudos go to director Jonathan Butterbell whose original idea for the musical led to its West End world premiere. His very British musical contains lyrics which may be difficult to understand by American audiences, but his devotion to representing inclusion and equality onstage speaks to what our society should be today as Jamie overcomes prejudice, beats the bullies and steps out of the darkness and into the spotlight, notably expressed by the Company in the finale “Out of the Darkness (A Place Where We Belong).” Tickets for “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” are offered at a special $22 for orchestra seats, available through CenterTheatreGroup. org, Audience Services at 213-972-4400 or in person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office (at the Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A. Center Theatre Group requires all guests to wear a mask and provide proof of full vaccination, along with a government or education issued photo ID upon arrival.