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There’s A Reason Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

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A few years ago, my husband and I were mindlessly channel surfing when we landed on an Amazon Prime little movie and thought, ‘this looks pretty good—let’s watch.’ That little movie was Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and we both thoroughly enjoyed a delightful and unexpected evening’s entertainment that was as poignant as it was funny. This gem of a movie musical is now on stage, in the latest offering from Baltimore’s Iron Crow Theatre, our premier queer theater. And I’m here to tell you that this is why we need this company in this city right now. 

With a book and lyrics by Tom Macrae, music by Dan Gillespie Sells, based on an idea by Jonathan Butterell, this true story about a high school kid who aspires to nothing higher than being a ‘fabulous drag queen’ couldn’t have landed at a better time in Baltimore. We are at the height of Pride Month, riding the wave of Drag Queen Appreciation inspired by the likes of RuPaul—not to mention our own local drag celebrities, performing all over town during these heady Pride Days. Try to get a seat at a drag brunch without a reservation these days. 

But back to the show. And remember, these characters are mostly based on real people. Jamie New is a 16-year-old high schooler in a provincial town. While set in Sheffield, England, it could as easily be Springfield, Ohio or Boise, Idaho, or any other small town. Being raised by his single mom Margaret and her best friend Ray, with an absent father (more about him later), Jamie is out and proud.

Despite being bullied and teased, he is determined to pursue his dream of being a drag queen. His mom, Ray, and his best friend, Pritti, all are totally supportive, though they worry for his safety in the homophobic environment of the small-minded village where they live. 

Jamie receives his first pair of pumps as a 16th birthday present from his mother and then makes the brave decision to attend his senior prom in a dress and heels. He seeks out a dress shop run by Hugo, the former drag queen Loco Chanel. Hugo loans Jamie the perfect dress and explains the difference between being a Drag Queen and being ‘just a boy in a dress.’ (insider’s note—that’s a reference to the famous speech that Noxema delivers in To Wong Fu With Love, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.) He gets Jamie a booking in a drag show, a kind of practice run for the big reveal he’ll make at the prom. 

When word gets around school that Jamie is going to be in a real drag show at a club, the kids decide to show up, mostly to make fun of him, but their derision gives way to respect and suddenly Jamie is the star of the school. Supporting characters include the obligatory bully, the clueless teacher, and, the worst of the lot for Jamie, a dad who tells him that he’s disgusting, saying, “I wanted a son, and what I got was YOU!!”

To make matters even worse, Jamie is told he can’t come to the prom unless he dresses like a boy. Being a musical and all, there is a mostly happy ending at the big prom, but I’ll not spoil it for you with any more particulars. 

Iron Crow Artistic Director Sean Elias directed the production with the sure hand of a seasoned professional. His meticulous attention to details with the casting and staging sets him a step above a good many local theaters and is on display here with his team assembled to bring this musical to the Baltimore stage.

Thomas P. Gardner’s lighting design actually forms part of the set, with clever slashes of light poles above the stage that both illuminate and add to the design. Chris Miller’s innovative use of school desks figure into the clever choreography by Arthur Cuadros. I was not thrilled with the costume designs by J. Ethan Henry, except for the drag queens from the show where Jamie makes his debut, but Henry’s choices are realistically indicative of what you would most likely find in that environment, although a little more glam in the case of Jamie’s dresses (though those shoes were fierce, gurl!).

The entire company has talent to burn and burn up the stage they certainly do. Music Director Allison Bradbury coaxes some wonderful moments vocally from the entire cast. While the score is not one of my favorites, these performers do it proud in every number. The chorus sings and dances their uniformed butts off to Cuadros’ choreography, but a couple of the ensemble deserve special mention, especially Mateen Kane. This kid draws focus (a usual no-no) but lawd, he spins and leaps like a Broadway veteran. There were two others he formed a trio with that also were outstanding, Liz Gutridge and Brooke Donald, and they all sparkled like new coins. 

In supporting roles, Asia-Ligé Arnold as Ray nails her part and Jake Stibbe as both both the school bully Dean and Jamie’s Dad, is appropriately churlish. I love the Drag names the writers chose for the Queens from the club, with Garrett Matthews as Laika Virgin, Stephen A. Forman as Tray Sophisticay, and Dean Whitfield as Sandra Bollock. All three wore fabulous futuristic frocks with grand style. 

Vocally, Isabelle Pickering was a real highlight and has a voice that makes you sit forward and pay rapt attention and is well cast as the teacher Mis Hedge. Courntney Simmons as Jamie’s best friend, Pritti, has a lovely voice as well and can muster some real backbone when the script turns her loose. 

Nicholas Miles is always spot on in any role I’ve seen him in and he certainly does not disappoint as Loco Chanel, the former and now revived Queen of Drag. His wise counsel is believable as he takes Jamie under his plumed wing and guides his first steps into the Drag arena. As Jamie’s Mom Margaret, Hana Clarice is the mom every kid wants—supportive, nonjudgmental and cheering from every angle. Clarice plays the part perfectly and sings with enough emotion to make you experience the anguish right alongside her. 

Which brings me to the star of the night, Bradley Adam Stein. In a role that could have easily been played way over the top and still been a perfect fit, this actor (no doubt with the help of the director) made excellent choices. Without wallowing in despair during some of their speeches, there was that note of defiance, that Jamie was going to be true to themselves, not trying to be a symbol or trailblazer, but just a boy who wants to be a Drag Queen who would not allow the world dictate to them what to wear nor when nor where to wear it. Stein has a fine, impressive tenor that serves them exceptionally well in this role. And when they conquer their first pair of stilettos, they strut with the best of them. Kudos to this wunderkind of an actor. 

There is nothing new about a guy in a dress playing for laughs and applause. Hell, you can go back to ol’ Billy Shakespeare’s day when women were not allowed on stages and all the parts were played by men. Those guys were actors playing parts. Today’s New Drag Queens are living their true authentic lives by dressing and presenting a side of themselves—or for many their whole selves—unapologetically and loudly, whether or not they are doing it on a stage for pay. We’ve come a long way past that being the only impetus. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie tells the story of a teenage boy who only wants to be himself—in a dress and a pair of high-heeled pumps. And if everybody is talking, then a lot more of us should be listening. 

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie runs through 30, 2024
Theatre Project
45 West Preston Street Baltimore MD 21201
Running Time: 2 hrs 30 minutes
Ticket Information here.

Photos by Wilson Freeman, courtesy of Iron Crow Theatre

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