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Interview: Melissa Jacques On North American Premiere Of EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE

The North American Premiere Engagement of the West End hit EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE opens January 21, 2022, at the Ahmanson

Interview: Melissa Jacques On North American Premiere Of EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE

The North American Premiere Engagement of the West End hit EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE opens January 21, 2022, at the Ahmanson. This coming-of-age musical centering around 16-year-old Jamie is based on the 2011 BBC3 documentary Jamie: Drag Queen At 16.

We got a chance to chat with Melissa Jacques (who plays Jamie's mother Margaret) on her history with JAMIE, her first time working in Los Angeles and the decline of theatre etiquette.

Thank you taking the time for this interview, Melissa! So, how are you doing this morning?

I'm so relieved! Doing the first preview last night, slept in this morning and woke up absolutely exhausted.

Last night was your first preview? How did it go?

O, my gosh! It was amazing! We know that the show is set in a particular part of the UK, with an accent and a dialect that you wonder if, I'm not dumbing down anybody's intellect in the U.S.; but you wonder if they will tune in to that and understand. Also, the humor, it's very, very English humor and Yorkshire humor. It was so wonderful to hear they were listening. I think they were there ready. 'I want to know what this show's about. We are here. We are ready. We are listening.' We've worked so hard on the show to make it so clear and get real clarity through. They were with us from the very get-go. They were laughing and responding. Yeah, it was so amazing!

I can't wait for people to see it. The movie came out and some people have seen the story now. But what is so special is to take the live show that that we've been doing for quite a few years now in London, to take it to a different part of the world and show them. Look at this story. Let's not forget this. Jamie Campbell exists in this world. He's with us. 100% the true story of Jamie and Margaret. Margaret messaged me to wish me good luck and I'm like, 'Gosh!' It's crazy to be in a play about somebody who's... usually they're people that aren't here in this world anymore. But Jamie exists and this story exists because he was as brave as he was at 16. Jamie Campbell, at 16 years old, he wanted to go to his prom in a dress. He was smart enough at that age to know that this would be a battle at the civic school. So, he sought out himself, a documentary maker. Nobody came to him to say we'd like to make a documentary about you. He knew he wanted to document this. And the documentary was made - Jamie: Drag Queen At 16. You can still find it and watch it. Jonathan Butterell, who created and directed EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE, came across the documentary one night and was just like, 'This is amazing!' That's how brave he was a 16. And he did, he went to prom in a dress. He's a successful designer and everything now. It's fascinating!

When did you first connect with Margaret Campbell?

I met her when I first started the show. They've been very much a part of being around the theater when it first opened. She's always there at night or gala. The last time actually was my last night in London. I don't think they're coming out (to L.A.). Maybe Jamie Campbell will. I don't think Margaret will. She would have said if she was coming out. She's the loveliest woman and her mum, Nana May, Jamie's grand, she's with us as well. She's still looking fabulous. Yeah. Lovely, lovely people.

Your history with EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE began in 2018 when you were cast as the understudy for Margaret New, Ray and Miss Hedge before taking over the role of Margaret full-time in 2019. What songs did you audition with at your first EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE audition?

Interview: Melissa Jacques On North American Premiere Of EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE At my very first audition for the show, it was at the theater in the theater bar. I walked into the bar, and I was introduced to everybody. There was the director Jonathan Butterell, Nica Burns (who's one of the West End's big producers and theater owners), and Dan Gillespie Sells. The composers are in the room, as well as the casting director and the associate director at the time. I read some of the scenes, and then they said, 'Should we have a look at "He's My Boy." So, I sang "He's My Boy." I didn't take my own stuff. I sang "He's My Boy" in the theatre bar with Dan Gillespie Sells sitting right there. Luckily, I had fallen in love with the piece anyway. I had tried to get a handle on "He's My Boy" (which is a huge song) before in my own one-woman show. I had sung it, so it wasn't alien to me, but it was very overwhelming to sing it when the composers in the room. Like even yesterday, we had a soundcheck and I had to sing both my songs and there's Dan (who's the most wonderful man) just wandering around again. When the composer's around, it's nerves anyway. So (at my audition), I sang "He's My Boy." I left the room and made my way back to the stage door. I got lost. Jonathan found me and said, 'Will you just go back here?' They offered me the job in the room.

On your first audition? Just one audition? Good for you!

That's never happened to me before ever in my life. I had already met years previous with Jonathan and Tom (MacRae) the writer. I had a brief meeting with them years before for the workshops. Yeah, there and then! I'm walking down Shaftesbury Avenue thinking, 'Okay, what just happened?'

What do you remember of the moment you were told you were no longer the understudy, but the role of Margaret was actually yours?

My goodness me! I knew that Rebecca McKinnis who played Margaret at the time was auditioning for things. Sometimes you get a vibe, thinking, 'Oh, I think that maybe, maybe something was happening.' Of course, in my wildest dreams, I was really hoping that they would ask me. But it's very rare the understudies get booked up, get promoted to. It is very rare because sometimes you're worth your weight in gold as an understudy. You're there. You're reliable. You know your stuff. You know all these three roles.

So, I remember being in the kitchen at home and my agent called me and he said, 'I've just had Laurence on the phone,' our producer and general manager, and they want me to take over as Margaret. I just started crying and just started shouting my agent's name over and over. He knew what it meant to me. We'd worked for this, and I had worked for this my entire career. My husband was in the shower. I was banging on the bathroom door crying but it was locked. He opened the door and said, 'What's the matter?' 'I'm taking over as Margaret.' 'I thought something awful was happening.' He thought I was crying in pain because of some bad news.

Did you get to go on a lot for the roles you understudied in JAMIE?

I did! Yeah, I went on for Margaret first. That was obviously my first looking at what I needed to learn first. I had taken that job, but I had already planned a summer off the summer I just left KINKY BOOTS. I was planning to have some time off. I was also planning never to understudy again. But this show came along, and I knew I had to be a part of the show because it's set in my hometown. So, I've got this whole summer planned to help the family. We've got a holiday booked. They said, 'Fine. We'll work around it.' I did go on holiday for two weeks. And the minute I got back in the country, I was on for Margaret for the first time. Not even been in the building for two whole weeks. And I was on for the first time. So that was crazy. I did my fair share of Margaret. I did my fair share of Ray. I really, really enjoyed playing Ray because she's such a lovely character This is my hometown and so these people in this play, in this musical are people that I know. Ray's like my mum's best friend and the girls I went to school with. She's that kind of woman. I had a lot of fun playing Ray.

Interview: Melissa Jacques On North American Premiere Of EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE Hedge, however, used to scare the bejesus out of me. I don't know why. I didn't mind being the speech teacher, but it was very difficult to learn because you're on your own, shouting aloud to kids. Having conversations like Margaret and Ray are having, like 200 conversations. Hedge just stood there shouting at kids, shouting names, reading names off a list. Then also she has to get down with her big bad self and do the rap in the opening number. I'm too old for this now. I used to be able to get my groove on in my MAMMA MIA days. Now I can't. It was really properly, properly out of my comfort zone playing Miss Hedge because of the rap that she had to do and her number "Work of Art," which is so fabulous. I just thought, 'Check in with me about five to 10 years ago. I would be living my best life with this role.' But I felt really super conscious when she had to be glamorous and fabulous and sharp. And I don't know why. I did play Miss Hedge again. I probably played all three in equal amounts. I was on for Miss Hedge the week before I took over as Margaret. It was also difficult to learn all three as well. I realized that I don't have the brain capacity anymore to swing or to cover like that. Miss Hedge was the last one for me to learn. I did get it under my belt, but I was always racked with nerves.

How prepared do you have to be as the understudy? Did you know your three roles completely off book?

Yeah! I mean, I think I got Margaret and Ray under my belt before I went on for those, but I definitely hadn't gotten Hedge done until I'd been on for Margaret and Ray. You can't get three done like that, just in a short amount of time, so it was your own work as well. I was rehearsed well. I was a standby, I wasn't in the show. I wasn't like an understudy that's in the ensemble. As I was going into work every day, sitting in my dressing room, learning those roles, which is what I had to do. Especially by the time I went up for Margaret now, I went up for Ray. I really needed to buckle down with Miss Hedge. A shaky, shaky performance the first time when I went on for Miss Hedge just because it was the last one I came to learn. And my brain was full by this.

For the uninitiated, would you define the differences between being an 'understudy,' an 'alternate,' a 'standby' and a 'cover,' which you did in a number of shows?

A cover or an understudy, usually nine times out of ten will be in the show in some capacity in the ensemble, maybe playing a smaller role. But you're there also to be first cover for another role or a principal role.

Is cover and understudy the same?

Yeah. I think cover is used more widely now than understudy. I think people tend to think that understudy sounds old-fashioned, but people use cover a lot now. First cover, second cover, third cover, whatever.

Alternate and standby, are they the same?

No, because I was the alternate Donna in MAMMA MIA, and I was in the ensemble. I would have one show a week. An alternate has a guaranteed show a week. They're like Christine Daaé, those kind of roles, maybe DEAR EVAN HANSEN. Those roles will have an alternate that on the two matinee days, they do those shows. A standby is somebody in the building, not in the show. They're just being on-call for the roles that they're there. They used to call it a walking cover. I think that term has come over in the past few years. But yeah, you're standing by. At WICKED, Elphaba and Glinda will have a standby. They are there to go on solely for those roles, if and when needed.

Interview: Melissa Jacques On North American Premiere Of EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE Now that you have several lead roles under your dance belt, would you say that having a specific role is less stressful than understudying/alternating/covering a number of roles?

Totally! Having to learn all those three roles and then taking over as Margaret... Yes, it's only one role. But then the responsibility comes with making sure you are delivering that role every night. Coming to it fresh eight times a week, and maintaining yourself, and looking after yourself so that you can perform eight times a week. So that stress is to concentrate on that one thing making sure that you're on top of your game eight times a week. It's a different stress.

Describe the very first time you took the Adelphi stage in your role of Trish in KINKY BOOTS, your first role not understudying?

I have the most wonderful memories of that show. I can honestly say it's one of my happiest times in a job. It's one of my favorite jobs. I loved it. It was the first time I wasn't understudying. It wasn't a huge role by any means, but it was mine and it was very me.

She was a motherly figure. There is a current theme that runs through my career and that is playing mothers. I've been playing mothers since I was 16. I was the ultimate Donna at MAMMA MIA when I was 27. I've just always had that maternal thing going on. Trish doesn't have kids, but she's the female figure in Charlie's life. This is lovely come-close relationship between her and Charlie. Ticked a lot of boxes with KINKY BOOTS. I always wanted to work with Jerry Mitchell. And that was a box ticked. It was the second cast change, the first cast changed after the original cast. We were lucky enough to have Jerry come over. Sometimes when shows go down the line, they've moved on to other projects and you looked after by brilliant associates. But we were lucky enough to have Jerry come over and work with us on some stuff, which was fab. Also wanted to always work at the Adelphi. I love that theater. It's beautiful. Yeah, that was another box ticked as well. And at the time, obviously it was just before JAMIE, it was a real show of acceptance and that's what JAMIE's about as well. It's about love and joy and being who you want to be in this world. To represent yourself however you want to be. It was a real sort of that phenomenon KINKY BOOTS again as the lovely overwhelming feeling of the lyrics of 'just be who you want to be.' As at the end of JAMIE, there's "A Place Where We Belong," in this case where you belong. How lucky enough to be in these beautiful shows that have these amazing messages at the end. The audience are with you and are a part of the show, if you like, at the end. So yeah, KINKY BOOTS is special.

Is this the first time you've been to Los Angeles?

Interview: Melissa Jacques On North American Premiere Of EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE I came for the week, about 15 years ago. Went on holiday to San Francisco and we did Big Sur. We drove down to L.A. from San Francisco. But we literally came for the weekend. We went to Disney and Hollywood Boulevard and then drove back on the freeway, not by Big Sur, a quick way back. It's not the first time I've been, but it's definitely the first time I'm working here. I'm here to explore and to spend time here, yeah.

Have you been able to explore any of L.A. yet?

Not yet. We only got here a week today. Our main objective was to get the show up and running. Get steady onstage, regrouped because there's the cast from the UK tour, some of them with myself. There's different people from different productions. It was making a new show in a way. Just making sure that we've got the show up and running. We went out for dinner on Melrose on Tuesday night, and I just was pimped, 'Somebody pinch me!' Facetimed my kids when they're getting ready for school in freezing London. Today is my first day off. I'm going to rest for a bit, but I think we're going to head out later. We were going to do a beach today, go to Venice but it's not great weather today.
It's going to be beautiful next Monday. Today's a museum and a bit-of-a-shopping day and some place lovely for dinner.

May I suggest you check out the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. They have a great exhibit of costumes and everything. You'll love it.

That's what we're doing! I can't wait!

Is it too early to ask you: What similarities have you found between London and Los Angeles?

None! Getting to work for me, takes an hour and a bit to drive to the station, get on the train. We'll cut through town. Here I'm in an Uber and I'm there within like 10 minutes, five minutes. I mean, obviously COVID Life is exhausting. Yes, I've been through it in town. We were one of the shows looking to get back to a socially distanced audience. I've worked through COVID and all the testing. Just half the job is making sure we're following the rules where COVID is concerned. It's a very, very different time for us to be working. Soho was where all the theaters are. You can wander around little streets. You can pop into a coffee shop. Now we're in Downtown Los Angeles, and everything's enormous. We have to walk away to try and find a Starbucks or something. It's completely different.

The Ahmanson theater is enormous. The Apollo Theater on Shaftesbury Avenue where JAMIE was first premiered and just closed back in September is a playhouse. It's a 651-seater, I think. I'm used to this intimate environment of knowing that the audience are literally just down by my right leg if I'm stood at the front of the stage. Whereas not only is this theatre a 2000-seater, it's vast. The sound is big. I mean, the sound is amazing. They seem far away, the building seemed much further away. Well, it did read last night. I don't have to worry about things reading or things being picked up because like I said to you, they were with us from the get-go last night. It's very different working here.

Any particular item has a special place on your dressing room table?

A picture of my children, my two girls. Quite a few in my dressing room in London but obviously I couldn't travel with stuff because I had a lot of clothes to bring and lots of pairs of shoes. When I got on the plane, I found some cards in my bag. I opened them on the flight. They had taken Polaroid snaps of themselves and sent them and put them in a card for me. So I've got Polaroid snaps with them on my mirror. It's a lovely dressing room. A friend of mine sent me some lovely things to make it cozy but you can't really kind of move in like you would do in London. So temporary, we're here for six weeks.

Do you have a pre-show warm-up routine?

Interview: Melissa Jacques On North American Premiere Of EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE Yeah, we will always have a company warm-up. Back in COVID life in London, we were having to do it remotely in our dressing rooms. But now we are having the full company warm-up. That's a good thing to get us warmed up. I have a little stretch thing I do myself. Just my jaw and making sure everything's released. That's from my own coach that I see. I brush my teeth. The one thing I have to do before going on stage is brush my teeth. I realized yesterday I have to get stuff like that because yeah, I couldn't bring double everything, double for the theater and double for my digs. I was getting ready last night. The whole ritual goes the same way of: do my makeup, then do my hair, put my mike on. Then I would go and brush my teeth. That's one funny little quirk I have is I brush my teeth.

Was there any West End EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE audience reactions that took you by surprise?

Yes. I can count on one hand how many times it's happened, and it happened last night. In the middle of this song I sing in Act Two "He's My Boy." It's five minutes long. It's huge. It's amazing. It's wonderful. It's powerful. And sometimes very, very, very rarely in the West End, I would get a round of applause halfway through the song. Like the key change. And I could see the sound man in the back, waving 'Yeah.' That's very rarely and last night, it happened three times to the song. It happened when I first sustained a long note. Then it happened at the key change. Then it happened again. That's a really rare reaction. I don't expect it ever. But when it does, it's very overwhelming. The fact that it happened the very first time we performed in L.A., it happened last night. Yeah, it was crazy.

We've had some strange ones before that. People, you know? Theater etiquette is going down. People chat on the phones. People eating and cracking open bottles and cans. You come to a really poignant scene, and you hear "quisssh." People just talking as if they are at home watching the TV or in the cinema. It's not. Frustrating! Theater etiquette has changed. We have an announcement before the show to please put the phones away. Bianca Del Rio is doing our announcement here which is really fun. But I did see somebody's face talking last night at one moment and I thought 'Put it away!' 'Don't buy a ticket for the show.'

What kind of audience reaction at the EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE curtain call would be most gratifying to you?

A standing ovation! A standing ovation which we did get last night. But honestly this show as soon as you come forward at one place. We're clapping along and the lyric is 'There's a place where you belong.' and you can look out to a sea of people of all different ages. A young lad might come with his mum, and he's come in full makeup and heels. Somebody has come dressed in a way that they wouldn't dress in their everyday life. For me to do stage door, which we can't do in COVID life, you'd get these people come to stage door just so grateful to thank you. 'Thank you for doing the show because I felt I can come here and know that I can come and represent myself here.' We get this warmth coming back from the audience at the end. We get a standing ovation, and you can just tell that they're with you. You can see in their faces that it's joy. It's pure joy. This is what this piece is about. It's just joy.

Thank you again, Melissa! I look forward to seeing you and your boy!

It's lovely to talk to you.

How To Get Tickets

For tickets to the live performances of EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE through February 20th, log onto www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

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