Theater Review: EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAIME (Ahmanson Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on February 2, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


Red high-heeled shoes? Professional drag queens? Repetitive pop music? Overcoming homophobia? Yeah, the new-ish musical Everybody’s Talking About Jaime sounds a lot like Kinky Boots, because it is. (There are so many ways to glitter and be gay in modern Musical Theater.)

Jaime is a musical about a 16-year-old boy called Jamie, who wants to wear a dress to his prom. And that, my dears, is the plot. He announces what he wants, a few thuggish Sheffield blokes give him doubt, his teacher won’t allow it, but his mom, best friend and ex-drag and costumer Hugo (Roy Haylock, aka Bianca Del Rio) give him all the encouragement he needs. Sure, it’s fizzy and fluffy and fabulous and bright, but it’s also bromidic, manipulative, formulaic and derivative of the current trend of the teenagers-breaking-out-of-their-shells and drag thing (I think Priscilla and Billy Elliot had a child here). Based on a 2011 three-hour-long BBC documentary, this hottest thing from the West End (“Fairy tales really do come true” is the tag line there) to the UK tour, never resonates beyond feel-good.

Still, and here’s where I’m shocked and pleasantly surprised, after viewing the shoulder-shrugging movie of the West End production, this Los Angeles production at the Ahmanson Theatre manages to bypass the glaring problems and turn it into rather escapist diversion. Perhaps in these dark times, feel-good is a commodity.

Its score by lead singer-songwriter of The Feeling, Dan Gillespie Sells, is basically bubbly 90s-style pop with quite a few slick, effervescent, driving earworms. I really liked some of the music. But among some cute rhymes are an alarming amount of repetitive, simplistic lyrics by book-writer Tom MacRae (this is the first foray into theater for both songsmiths). These songs are targeted for Top 40 charts with little regard to the kind of construction that would appeal to everybody — teens, sophisticates, adults, and laymen. It’s a great beat given the basically banal lyrics. So, the reason Everybody’s Talking About Jaime is popular and on tour? It isn’t the songs. It’s the sentiment and the dance-party beat. (This isn’t the first time in musical history that a so-so score was in a smash hit show.) Watching a teenager overcome angst is exactly what the younger ticket-buying crowds crave these days, especially now that gender-fluid identities are becoming an “in” thing. And Layton Williams’s amazing performance as Jaime is a star turn, hitting camp and vulnerability out of the ball park in equal measure. There’s so much buzz, it looks like a major motion picture in the works.

What sets this apart from other inferior musicals is the dialogue, also written by MacRae, which even with cliché is ferocious, surprising, and manages to be pure musical comedy without sacrificing authenticity — which explains why the show is selling well.

In the opening number, Jaime tells us he’s gonna be a hit — “And You Don’t Even Know It,” the he sings to the teacher (Gillian Ford). With a group of joyful classmates bouncing behind him — including the bully Dean (George Sampson) who really should have gotten a song of his own) — backed by sparkling arrangements brass bopping buoyantly from a smokin’ 7-piece band above the action, it’s all pretty infectious (orchestrations by Dan Gillespie Sells). Especially if you’re into positive messages that sound like grown-up Disney Radio for adolescents. The disco beat doesn’t always gibe with the sentiment (and the accents will make it difficult to understand some dialogue and lyrics), yet to quote Baloo in The Jungle Book, “But, man, what a beat!” The title song, offered at the top of Act II, is as ebullient as can be.

And, except for the gorgeous “It Means Beautiful,” sung resplendently by Heba Elchikhe as Jaime’s Muslim friend Pritti Pasha, the ballads suffer because they’re too generic to draw us in emotionally. Melissa Jacques mows through her 11 o’clock number, “He’s My Boy,” with muscular strength and breadth, but the big build doesn’t give us any more insight into the character; So even though Ms. Jacques tears down the house to well-earned roaring approval, the song feels like the B-side to some other hit.

It’s kinda weird actually: Maybe today’s theatergoers are less interested in great scores than they are in musicals that challenge stigma, discrimination and stereotypes — and Jaime does that in spades, with the help of some arch drag queens, natch.

photos by Johan Persson

Everybody’s Talking About Jaime
presented by Center Theatre Group
Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave.
ends on February 20, 2022
for tickets, call 213.972.4400 or visit CTG

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