It’s an unusual theatre season for sure.  No, I’m not talking about Covid’s effect everywhere, hitting the Theatrical Community especially hard. I’m talking about a season featuring not one but two musicals about an LGBT high school student having serious prom problems.  What are the odds?

One musical, coming later in the year, is THE PROM.  A critical success on Broadway that had a core base of serious fans but just couldn’t gain any box office traction and closed much sooner than anyone anticipated.  But more on that show later this year.

The other, after achieving hit status in London, is now playing Los Angeles in what seems to be a pre-Broadway tour.  I say seems because the producers will not deny or confirm their intentions of bringing the show to Broadway.  Should they?  Well judging by the audience’s reaction the other night, it seems highly probable.

EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE, is set in and around a high school in Sheffield, England.  The senior class is a fascinating mix of students from various backgrounds but most having little or no concept of what they want to do in life. Although his aptitude test suggests that he should become a forklift driver, Jamie knows exactly what he wants to be……a drag queen!  But not just any drag queen, he wants to be the most fabulous one there ever was. 

L-R: Layton Williams as ‘Jamie New’ and Melissa Jacques ‘Margaret New’ in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” now playing at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre through February 20, 2022. Photo by Johan Persson

For the most part his friends and classmates all support his trying to live his dream, except for that one uber macho lad in his class.  Although his father is also on the negative side of support, his mother and her omnipresent best friend are solidly in his court.  So too are a trio of Drag Queens all eager to have Jamie be the glittering best he can be.  He has lots of ups and a few downs on his journey to ultimate fabulousness, but Jamie’s sincerity, warmth and sense of humor predictably wins out making even the school bully an ally.  It is a simple story with an no-surprise ending but is one of the most joyous, celebratory and ingratiating musicals you will ever see.  Most of the characters in Jamie’s world, due in no small part to the tremendous skill of the cast, are quirky, interesting and fully realized.  In lesser hands these could all easily become 2 dimensional caricatures. As Margaret, Jamie’s mother, Melissa Jacques delivers a beautiful and strong performance.  She is willing to help her son be happy in life and follow his dream whether she agrees with his choice or not.  That lioness-like strength protecting her son is always on display while simultaneously nurturing Jamie and giving him the inner strength to overcome problems and achieve his dream.  Her second act number, HE’S MY BOY, was a gloriously delivered showstopper.  Always there to help her best friend fight for her son is Shobna Gulati as Ray, in another strong performance laced with solid laughs.

Of Jamie’s fellow students, Hiba Elchikhe is a stand out as Pritti, a serious Muslim student who dreams of becoming a doctor but who always can find time for her BFF Jamie when he needs her.

Reminiscent of the 3 strippers in GYPSY who help Louise morph into the star Gypsy Rose Lee, David O’Reilly, Leon Craig and James Gillan, are 3 very funny drag queens there to bolster Jamie and cheer him on when he needs that extra push.  As his mentor and something of a fairy godmother, Roy Haylock (aka Bianca Del Rio the season 6 winner of RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE) plays Hugo, better known as the diva Loco Chanelle, Jamie’s idol and role model.  It’s another funny but rich and layered performance in a show fortunate enough to have so many truly skilled actors.  

Layton Williams as ‘Jamie New’ (center) and cast in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” now playing at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre through February 20, 2022. Photo by Johan Persson

But above them all is the absolutely radiant performance of Layton Williams as Jamie New.  His delivery is spot on landing every joke, his dancing is superb (not surprising since he played the dance heavy title role in Billy Elliot) and his singing is solid and strong. He has the ability to command the stage whether he is standing up to one of the school toughs or gliding effortlessly across the stage in high heels.  Throughout the show, he exudes a warmth and likeability that I have rarely experienced in the theatre.  He keeps you rooting one hundred percent for Jamie, even when the character’s actions are not always as likeable. The heart that he brings to his performance could probably make an audience forgive almost anything he would do onstage. It is truly a breath-taking performance.

At this time for the theatre when some shows are on then off then on then off at the seemingly capricious whim of the Covid virus, EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE comes sailing in at just the right time.  It is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and make you forget the outside world for a couple of hours.  And who could say no to that?

EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE runs through February 20, 2022 at the Ahmanson Theatre located in Downtown L.A. For tickets go to CenterTheatreGroup.org, or call Audience Services at (213) 972-4400.  The Ahmanson box office is also open to purchase tickets in person.  See their website for operational hours.