‘FUNDAMENTALLY, it’s a story about being 16,’ says Dan Gillespie Sells, frontman of The Feeling, about his hit musical Everyone’s Talking About Jamie.
The production was inspired by documentary Jamie: Drag Queen At 16. Theatre director Jonathan Butterell decided to turn the story into a musical and asked Dan to write the score — even though he’d never composed a musical before.
‘Jonathan wanted pop songs that felt they could be on an album aside from being in a musical,’ says Dan, 39. ‘So we didn’t always stick to the rules of musical theatre. There’s no big opening number, for example.’
The show opened in Sheffield in February 2017, and moved to London’s West End in November. The run has now been extended to 2019, a cast album has been released and a cinema screening takes place next month.
‘It was a treat helping build the story up from a documentary into a musical,’ says Dan. ‘Everyone involved connected with the idea of a kid trying to find his way in the world, as we’ve all been there.’
Dan describes himself as being ‘very shy’ at 16. ‘I loved being away in the music room. I wasn’t one of the cool kids, by any means.’
It was also the age he first started attending the BRIT school. ‘It was a big turning point for me,’ he adds. ‘My dream was to be a professional musician — I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and I didn’t know where to start. I’m not from a musical family and had to find my own way. A lot of kids feel they don’t know how to go about making their dreams a reality at that age, and sometimes all they need is a bit of help.’
In Dan’s case that came when he formed The Feeling with BRIT school friends, only for the original singer to get her own record deal and leave the group.
‘I was happy being the guy who wrote the songs, but the others in the band pushed me forwards and I became the singer,’ he explains.
Similar unexpected journeys befall the teenagers in the musical — and Dan says the theme of the show is surprisingly universal: ‘In Sheffield, we had people coming back bringing their parents and grandparents. It’s hard to pin down who the audience is.’
Dan is thrilled with the show’s success. ‘We dreamed it would go to the West End — and now there’s a cinema screening so everyone can see it. We’re bowled over.’
Dan’s also busy with The Feeling, who celebrate the 12th anniversary of debut album Twelve Stops And Home with a tour. ‘We’re doing all the tracks in order,’ he says. ‘Listening to an album from track one all the way through is rarer than it used to be.’
He’s also recording a new album with the band for release next year. ‘We’ve worked together for 20 years and I don’t see why we should stop,’ he says.
Are there more musicals on the horizon? ‘I found working on this so fulfilling and exciting I can’t wait to do another one. There are a handful of pieces at various stages of development — I was very lucky with this and I’m not expecting all of them to get to this stage as easily.’
Now the cinema screening is almost upon us, what else does he hope for Jamie?
‘I want it to go all over the world,’ laughs Dan. ‘It’s beyond my dreams it’s done so well and I just hope it keeps on doing its thing.’
■ Everybody’s Talking About Jamie runs at London’s Apollo Theatre until October and shows at selected cinemas on July 5; the West End cast recording is out now. everybodystalkingaboutjamie.co.uk
More outrageous shows to catch
For Reasons That Remain unclear
If you enjoyed the revival of Boys In The Band, you’ll like this story of a meeting between a handsome Hollywood type and a priest from its writer Mart Crowley, which is headlining the 2018 Queer Season. From July 25, King’s Head Theatre, London, kingsheadtheatre.com
The apparently true story of a drag queen who single-footedly saves a dying shoe factory, turned into a musical by none other than Cyndi Lauper. Who knew men could look so good in thigh-high patent leather? Oh, you did! Adelphi Theatre, London, kinkybootsthemusical.co.uk
National Theatre River Stage
East London’s legendary The Glory, which seems like an ordinary boozer until the acts come on, takes over for the weekend with drag queens Jonny Woo and Timberlina taking things to spectacular extremes. July 13-15, outside the National Theatre, London, nationaltheatre.org.uk