Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Ray of Light Theatre

Also see Patrick's recent review of The Lehman Trilogy

J Conrad Frank and Cast
Photo by Jon Bauer
Here in San Francisco, we know our drag. The city is filled with some of the fiercest, funniest, most foul-mouthed queens you will ever have the pleasure of being insulted (and entertained) by. So if you're going to do a show here about a drag queen–and in the case of Everybody's Talking About Jamie, which opened over the weekend in a Ray of Light Theatre production, that's 16-year old wannabe superstar Jamie–you best have your stilettos shined, your boas fluffed, and your eyebrows perfectly penciled in.

Fortunately for the sellout crowd that made its way to the dumpy Victoria Theatre, the team at Ray of Light get the details–the opening of a fan with a decisive snap!, the twirl of a wrist, the downward, side-eye gaze of judgment, the outrageous costumes, and many more–just right. The result is a ferociously joyous, lovingly chaotic, buoyantly uplifting two-and-a-half hours of song, dance, and–above all–pride.

Though Jamie (Romelo Urbi) would likely prefer to be starting his drag career here in San Francisco, he is instead stuck in industrial Sheffield, England, living in a council flat with his mother Margaret (Anne Elizabeth Clark) and attending school where he's bullied, especially by Dean (Tucker Gold), the class bigot.

As the show opens, the teens are raising a ruckus, while their careers teacher, Miss Hedge (Andrea Dennison-Laufer), tries to get them under control. "I wish I could tell you you're all going to achieve your dreams," she tells them, but advises them instead to "get real." Each of the kids has received a career evaluation suggesting potential future jobs. Jamie gets "forklift truck operator," but when he tells Miss Hedge he wants to be a "performer" (brave though Jamie is, he's still hesitant to say he wants to be a drag queen), she gently scoffs at this, and Jamie (and the class) breaks into the opening number, "And You Don't Even Know It."

Fortunately, things are better at home, where Margaret and her best friend Ray (Jill Slyter) are incredibly supportive of Jamie, even buying him his first pair of red sequined heels. Jamie's Dad (Christopher Sotelo), who abandoned the family ages ago, is far less supportive of his son, calling him "disgusting," one of a series of insults that have Jamie singing about building "The Wall in My Head," as a form of emotional armor.

With prom coming up, Jamie and his best friend Pritti (Madelyn Davis-Haddad) consider the challenges of Jamie wearing a dress to the big event, something the schoolmasters aren't at all in favor of. Undeterred, Jamie heads into town looking for a prom dress, ending up at the "Victor's Secret" shop, a sort of drag queen supply store run by the dashing Hugo (J Conrad Frank), whose drag persona, Loco Chanelle, is reputed to be the killer of all queens. Hugo will serve as a mentor for Jamie, encouraging him to release his secret identity. "A boy in a dress is something to be laughed at," Hugo tells him, "A drag queen is something to be feared."

With Hugo's help and encouragement from Pritti and his mother and Ray, Jamie will beat the bullies at their own game–even though it's Pritti who gives Dean the verbal beat down in act two that he so richly deserves.

Along the way, there is enough energy from this cast of nearly two dozen to light every marquee on Broadway. Urbi's Jamie is a wonderful mix of confidence and insecurity that is perfect for a 16-year old. His voice, though it could use a little extra oomph in his upper and lower registers, is pleasant and allows the emotions his character is feeling to come through in each note. At Pritti, Davis-Haddad has an adorable way of scrunching her face that makes you want to hug her. She's so supportive of Jamie that it almost feels as if his coming out is also the key to her freedom. Anne Elizabeth Clark is a terrific Marge–a lioness protecting her cub from the vicissitudes of life that she fears await him. Her powerful voice aligns perfectly with her role, as it aches with pain and roars with defiance.

Although I might quibble with J Conrad Frank for using the same faux-British accent he put on in New Conservatory Theatre Center's marvelous Ruthless!, he ought to be in an orange jumpsuit, as he is as guilty of stealing this show as when he stole Ruthless!. He has a gentle sort of swagger, yet still allows the hurt his character has received over the years to come through. There is a love that is almost parental with Hugo, and Frank's performance is awash in that love. Any boy who dreams of a life on stage could do worse than to have J Conrad Frank as their drag mother.

The costumes (by Daniel Harvey) and wigs (by Wigs by Tips) are beyond glorious, especially the get-ups created for Frank's portrayal of both Hugo and Loco Chanelle. Choreography by Alex Rodriguez aligns wonderfully with the story–it has a loose-limbed energy that's perfect for a bunch of rowdy teens, with elements of voguing, hip-hop, and krumping thrown in for good measure. It all takes place on an elegant set of white patterned panels, with a horizontal array of monitors (which display cool, minimalistic graphics by Yrving Torrealba and Erik Scanlan), and set pieces which roll in and out as required.

The only truly negative element of this otherwise gloriously uplifting production is the venue itself. It's not so much the sketchy neighborhood or the woeful insufficiency of the bathrooms as it is the horrific acoustics, which make it hard to understand the dialogue and lyrics. When the band is really rocking, their sound often overwhelms that of the singers, adding to the acoustic woes.

Ray of Light Theatre has developed a reputation for putting on shows that live up to the company's motto: "Blood. Sweat. Musicals," for the company pours its heart into every thing it does, and this production of Everybody's Talking About Jamie is no exception.

Everybody's Talking About Jamie> runs through June 23, 2024, at Ray of Light Theatre, Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays – Saturdays at 8:00p.m., with 2:00p.m. matinees Saturdays. There will also be a performance Monday, June 10 at 8:00p.m. Tickets are $20-70. For tickets and information, please visit