Theater Review: EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE (Ray of Light Theatre in San Francisco)

Post image for Theater Review: EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE (Ray of Light Theatre in San Francisco)

by Christopher Beale on June 9, 2024

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Now, it’s a legend. First there was the 2011 British television documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, which became a concept album for the hit musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which opened on the West End in 2017, toured, then recorded and screened in cinemas, toured again, and then adapted into a film in 2021. Now Ray of Light Theatre’s staging will — in fact — have everybody in San Francisco talking about Jamie.

Romelo Urbi (Jamie) and Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, aka J. Conrad Frank (Loco Chanelle)
Romelo Urbi (Jamie)

This pop musical tells in two acts the story of an adorable and outgoing gay boy, Jamie New, who dreams of being nothing more than a professional drag queen at his home in Sheffield, England, a small city about 3 hours northwest of London by car. Verbally taunted by a bully, but surrounded by a slew of loving classmates and a bestie named Pritti, Jamie is asked to be something more practical by his prep school teacher. At home, Jaime’s supportive mum Margaret — now separated from Jaime’s homophobic, deadbeat da — gives him a pair of red high-heeled shoes for his 16th birthday. When Jamie decides to wear a dress for his prom, he wanders into a drag boutique, where owner Hugo — a drag entertainer himself — helps Jamie create a look, and then gets the lad his first gig at a drag show, where Jamie goes on with the name of “Mimi Me.” In Act II, Jaime is, as the title implies, the talk of the school the next day. The main conflict comes from his blue-collar da, whom Jaime thinks has been giving him gifts based on Margaret’s lies. The father spurns his son, which causes the youth severe anguish.

  The Ensemble

Even with clichés, the dialogue by Tom MacRae is ferocious, surprising, and manages to be pure musical comedy without sacrificing authenticity. The score by lead singer-songwriter of The Feeling, Dan Gillespie Sells, is basically bubbly 90s-style pop with quite a few slick, fizzy, driving earworms. The simplistic lyrics are by MacRae (this is the first foray into theater for both songsmiths). The reason Everybody’s Talking About Jaime has become legend isn’t the songs. It’s the sentiment and the dance-party beat. What you get from Ray of Light is a modern, fun production dripping with queer representation. Watching a gay teenager overcome angst, especially one with a gender-fluid identity, makes this is the perfect show for Pride.

Steven Ennis, Rahni NothingMore & Samuel Prince
Anne Elizabeth Clark (Margaret)

Director Alex Kirschner keeps the fun moving, and offers an unbelievably strong cast from top to bottom. Anne Elizabeth Clark is so strong as Margaret that during “He’s My Boy” in Act II that I observed the largely queer audience weeping in large numbers — myself included. Her boy Jamie is played by Romelo Urbi, who displays a believable innocence mixed with a commanding stage presence as he hits camp and vulnerability out of the ballpark in equal measure. Urbi makes this Jamie shine like a diamond.

  Romelo Urbi as Jamie and Madelyn Davis-Haddad as Pritti

J. Conrad Frank (the man behind veteran San Francisco drag queen Katya Smirnoff-Skyy) masterfully portrays the show’s hilarious and warm drag mother archetype Hugo, a.k.a. Loco Chanel. The resemblance to his drag character is obvious, but Frank steps into more layered character work with this role, especially during his scenes as Hugo advising the younger Jamie. Jill Slyter is perfect as Ray, Margaret’s best friend and a second mother to Jamie. Madelyn Davis-Haddad as Jaime’s Muslim friend Pritti Pasha sings the gorgeous ballad “It Means Beautiful” resplendently.

Romelo Urbio (Jamie), Anne Elizabeth Clark (Margaret) and Jill Slyter as Ray.

Ray of Light Theatre is presenting Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the city’s oldest operating theater, The Victoria. Located in the Mission, her curtain first raised in 1908 and in the time since the space has presented opera, vaudeville, burlesque, films and live theater. The only drawbacks I could see in my first visit to the historic space are the limited bathrooms, and the acoustics — although music director Jad Bernardo‘s seven-piece band sounds great. Matt Owens‘s set looks like something ripped directly out of RuPaul’s Drag Race. From the textured backdrops that reflect Weili Shi’s rainbow lighting palette to the sets that slide in and out of the wings, every inch of that hallowed stage is used, lit, and filled with queer joy, costumed with even queerer joy by Daniel Harvey whose work validates that this feel-good, queer production doesn’t make its main character’s pain the star. The wardrobe is! Happy Pride!

photos by Jon Bauer

Everybody’s Talking About Jaime
Ray of Light Theatre
Victoria Theatre (480 seats), 2961 16th Street (between Mission and Capp)
ends on June 23, 2024
for tickets ($20-$55), visit ROLT

Christopher J. Beale is an award winning journalist, producer, and podcaster based in San Francisco, CA.

Leave a Comment