It’s impossible not to compare this show to “Kinky Boots”. “Jamie”, to me, is about a production team that saw the enormous success of “Kinky Boots” all over the world and thought, ‘Hey, it seems that people really love stories about boys that don’t fit the traditional mold of masculinity, and the psychology that informs their decisions and how it affects the NOPE WAIT IT’S JUST ABOUT BOYS DRESSING UP AS GIRLS THAT’S IT WE WILL DO THAT!’ There was such potential in developing stories inspired by such departures from traditional male roles, but going with ‘boy dressing in girl clothes’, mining the most asinine humor from it and leaving it at that is the kind of baseline effort level we witness with this show.
“Jamie”, to everyone else, is about a teenage boy named Jamie who is living in a small English town where the accents are such that everyone pronounces his name ‘Jeh-meh’ and he is wayyy toooo faaaabulous for it. He wants to be a drag queen, and his loving but one-dimensional mother supports him, and his classmates and friends seem to find it cool, except for one of the typical asshole boys who thinks he is macho but is really obviously fragile in his masculinity. And his absentee father doesn’t approve but he was never really in his life or wanting to be. Okay, cool, Jamie, go be a drag queen, you are beautiful so you will be great at it. This is all clear in the first five minutes. So they fill all the remaining hours with a lot of unnecessary, well, filler, like the local drag shop (I’m sorry, what towns in rural England have entire shops for drag queens?) run by a great drag queen from the past named Loco Chanelle, a really low-effort drag name that the writers are clearly overly proud of, who sings a very, VERY unnecessary and cringe-worthy song about his past and how he killed his lover maybe??, and it gets a goddamn REPRISE???, and it’s so painful like every single song in this show. They fill it with a stern, annoying teacher who has a serious problem with Jamie’s breaking out of the straight lines she wants boys and girls to stay inside. Her outdated beliefs are only a tiny bit easier to believe than the fact that a school teacher in a tiny town has Christian Louboutin heels, another thing that is mentioned ostensibly to help the writers reach their word limit. And they fill it with bad music.
I’m sorry, because I really do like liking things, and I want to love everything musical theatre so badly, but this score is atroooocious. Even with a lackluster book, if a show has fun or lovely or even just original music, that’s a win. But this score is not even as promising as the bad songs we would cook up in drama class in middle school. Oh but the trite, derivative lyrics stick in your head, so it has that going for it. Let’s review some of my favorite moments. First of all, there’s the title song, where everyone jumps around like they’re at a rave and yells “Everybody’s talking about Jamie! Everybody’s talking about Jamie! Everybody’s talking about Jamie!” The melody is exactly how you are imagining it. I don’t even know if that song had other lyrics. Next, oh let’s talk about the opening number, the one that has to set the tone for the whole show. This one, “And You Don’t Even Know It”, using the very new very original song-style of having say a phrase and then say “And you don’t even know it” over and over and over. “You’re a star! And you don’t even know it! Mini bar! And you don’t even know it!” Okay I made that last lyric up but you get the picture. I LOVE loved (sarcasm) the big ‘I Want’ number of the show, called “Spotlight”, where Jamie’s classmates sang of him “Out of the darkness, into the spotlight, out of the darkness, into the spotlight.” I mean MAN where did the writers come up with such original lyrics?? The best part of that one, the part when I realized ‘ohhh this is going to be terrrrible’ was that the female classmates were sitting at a table playing CUPS to the melody. Yes, Cups, the cup trick Anna Kendrick did in “Pitch Perfect” that you learn at summer camp when you’re little. Anyway, the girls were doing that as accompaniment because omg so cool. Then, ohh man, my favorite, the big runway catwalk number called “Work of Art” where everyone sang of Jamie (I’m sensing a redundant theme) about how he’s a work of art: “Mona Lisa isn’t she sir, work of art” was one lyric that I almost screamed at. You get it by now, right? I don’t want to have to think of these songs again.
Oh my real favorite part was when the mother had one of her clichéd, hackneyed ballads about how he’s her boy and how she would do things differently if she met herself again (title of song: “If I Met Myself Again” picture 1000 eye roll emojis) and I SHIT YOU NOT, two dancers were BREAKDANCING during it. DURING A SAD BALLAD. It wasn’t ballet-like emotional dancing to the slow music; it was literally breakdancing to a nonexistent rhythm as though someone somewhere were scratching a record and Jason Mendoza was patiently waiting for the beat to drop but it never would. I looked around me in the darkness for the Punk’d cameras. I have never been so flabbergasted at direction choices. Man alive.
There’s really no conflict to solve, no problems, except for Jamie to get enough nerve to go onstage in his dress and not let the stupidest kid in school or the father that abandoned him get to him. That this super-confident, quick-witted boy would waste a moment thinking about what the dumb mean boy in school thought of him was hard to believe, but okay, everyone has bullies in high school. Is this so-tiny-it’s-hard-to-even-call-him-a-minor-character really the only source of external conflict? To make up for that, Jamie fights with his mother for no good reason, and his mother sings songs about how “he’s my boy” and the audience was supposed to cry but it was forcing drama onto a cotton candy cloud that vanished into thin air as soon as pressure was applied to it. Every character was so stereotyped and lacking any semblance of nuance, it was just hard to believe that this show got this far without people editing it to bring it into the best shape possible. Or at least shape enough to run around the block.
Okay, there was one character that wasn’t completely clichéd and stereotyped, because it is one of the first appearances of such a character in musical theatre. Jamie’s best friend is a Muslim girl named Pritti (played by Lucie Shorthouse) who wears a hijab. As far as I know this is new, and this is the real minority representation this show deserves to be commended for. Lucie is the only character that gets to shine, aside from Jamie. She gets the one song in the show that didn’t make me want to tear my hair out, called “It Means Beautiful”, about the Arabic equivalent of the name Jamie. It’s not a great melody and the lyrics don’t live up to the nice sentiment that gives rise to the song (i.e., Pritti telling Jamie that he is indeed beautiful and look Arabic proves it), but still, it was not horrible. Lucie unfortunately does annoying popstar styling with her voice throughout the song, where she kind of catches the sound during held notes (something the director, if he exists, should have stopped) but she is really talented.
And Jamie does shine. John McCrea is a true star, whose star quality shines through even this pile. He stands out physically, a lithe, otherworldly-blonde, beyond pale young man who regularly shows off how incredibly flexible he is. He manages to imbue the dullness with pops of vigor here and there, usually by doing an impossibly high kick in heels. He delivers one of the only lines that made me laugh – a bit where he’s trying to climb out the bathroom window and the mean teacher asks what he thinks he’s doing and he says “…Parkour??” That actually cracked me up. I hope that John gets a role in the future that is actually worthy of his talent.
Although I’m pretty sure he’s happy with this one. Everyone seems to be loving it and I’m astounded.
Aside from the horrendous, actively bad score, the book is a mess as well. There is way too much of everything (so much attention to the drag queen, the teacher, the father, the friends) and yet not enough of those things to make it worthwhile, no real sense of understanding what they are trying to accomplish. And as if this storyline didn’t feel straight out of 1992 enough, there are outdated jokes peppering the book scenes, like talk of how all Kim Kardashian does is wear heels. It’s so low-effort, like everything in this show.
OH so part of the nonexistent conflict is that the mean boy calls Jamie a ‘minger’ and Jamie is destroyed by it. So I had no idea what that meant, but I knew it was bad because it was basically the only real drama. Non-British people will likely not understand that part when they see it, but they are going to hate it anyway so whatever. So after the show I text my English friend “hey what does minga mean” because see I heard it with the accent, and she pretty much died laughing. She explained that it’s a very British way of calling someone skanky, like so skanky that no one would ever want to sleep with them. I thanked her for explaining it and then threw a glass at the wall in my fury over a musical basing all of its conflict over something so trivial as a boy calling another boy this word, as if it doesn’t happen a billion times every day in every high school. As if Jamie, our unstoppable protagonist, would actually care that this idiot football player called him that. I have to go throw another glass.
Luckily the end sucked, with a “Three Billboards” style redemption of the white male asshole because who doesn’t love forgiveness that isn’t deserved. At least, unlike that movie, I guess we should try to redeem asshole children, who still have a chance to do some good, but I’m pretty sure that kid is going to remain a jerk forever. I’m still angry that this lackluster, banal show dragged (no pun intended) for almost three freaking hours. This isn’t “Les Mis”, people! Which, along with “Matilda”, is one of the only professional level shows playing in this town. And I’m angry and uncomfortable that a show that is professing to fill the niche of queer and inclusive art can still manage to be so sexist, as a good deal of art about gay men tends to be. There’s very often that unspoken but obvious thought that ‘we can’t be sexist towards women; we’re gay!’ and it’s definitely happening here. The treatment of gender here explains that, while men like Jamie can cross gender lines and break down barriers, women shall remain in their supporting positions of the men around them. You may be thinking that there’s not much they can do for the women when this is a story about this one boy, but they manage to do a whole lot of bad in that time. The girls in his school face a constant barrage of sexism from the male classmates, from being shown dicks they don’t want to see from dicks they don’t want to bother with, to being harassed with talk about how the boys will ‘drill’ them (they say ‘drilling’ a lot) whenever they want. And it’s a total Law & Order: SVU situation: The treatment is obviously bad, but it’s there not to serve as an example of bad behavior, but to serve as an example of what is considered normal. That pisses me off and it’s dangerous to include it in the show’s world as unnecessary examples of normalcy.
When the last musical assault on my ears and brain ended, the entire audience shot up to their feet quicker than I’ve ever seen. Honestly the reaction to this musical disappoints me only slightly less than Brexit. But I guess when all the modern original musical work in your country is kind of on this level, you don’t expect, or get, any better.
The two old ladies in front of me were brushing their hair. One fumbled around her purse during the opening number, brought out a big brush, and brushed her hair, probably 100 strokes. Then she gave it to her friend. I can't with people.
The best part of this show was the bubble tea I got next door afterwards.