Words by Simon Button
If everybody isn’t talking about Layton Williams then they sure should be. So funny in Bad Education, so fabulous as Angel in Rent, he now faces the most daunting of theatrical prospects - namely stepping or indeed sashaying into a role that someone else, aka the brilliant John McCrea originated - and yet he completely makes it his own.
Like McCrea before him, Williams is playing Jamie New, a teenager who dreams of attending the school prom in a dress, even though he’s bullied for being gay and is rejected by his dad for being his flamboyant and fabulous true self in perilously high heels.
McCrea was wonderful as Jamie, with fantastic comic timing and a schoolboy vulnerability that made you love him to death. With his fantastic vocal chops and legs that go on forever, plus a self-assuredness that comes from being through-the-roof talented, Layton is a tougher Jamie but one who’s just as easy to love.
He gets a great supporting cast in Rebecca McKinnis, staying on as Jamie’s devoted mum with a second act song about parental devotion that shreds the heartstrings, Sejal Keshwala as the family’s gobby best friend Ray, Hayley Tamaddon as rapping careers teacher Miss Hedge and Shane Richie camping it up a storm as faded drag queen Loco Chanelle.
A Jamie stalwart who’s been with the show from the beginning, Luke Baker (who, let’s face it, is not exactly hard on the eyes!) is very brave as Dean Paxton, never shying away from the ugliness behind the school bully’s good-looking facade.
Then there’s Sabrina Sandhu, who is wonderfully warm in the key role of Pritti Pasha - Jamie’s self-proclaimed fag hag and a fellow outsider who is no stranger to being bullied and whose song about inner beauty (one of the standouts in Dan Gillespie Sells’ brilliant score) is a real heart-wrencher.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The show itself remains the most vibrant and uplifting of anything currently on in the West End and it’s a small-scale show that makes a massive noise as an 'I'm here, I'm queer' musical which speaks directly to today's LGBTQ youth in a way no other show ever has before.
And Layton Williams, in his first leading role, shines brightly as its new centre. He’s always been great in everything he’s done so it’s not a case of a star being born, more a star finally getting his moment in the spotlight.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is at the Apollo Theatre, London. For great deals on tickets and shows click here.