How John McCrea Went From Unknown to Olivier-Nominated Star

Seth Rudetsky   How John McCrea Went From Unknown to Olivier-Nominated Star
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth tells of his London theatre recs and the story from his interview with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie star John McCrea.

Blimey! I’m on my way back from London! I was there to do three shows with (cutie) John Barrowman and, OMG, they went great.

James and I arrived on Tuesday and stayed in our favorite room at our favorite hotel, The Radisson Blu Edwardian. We love it so much that when Liz Callaway was there a few weeks ago to do the live BBC radio concert of Sondheim On Sondheim, we insisted that she and her husband, Dan, stay there. They loved it, too. Speaking of which, here’s Liz’s “Another Hundred People” that begins with her messing up. Or does it?

Our room is on the second floor, but because it’s Europe it’s called the first floor. Whatever. James and I love it because it has so many windows we can look out of and see the British flag, the branches from the trees around the hotel, and the cute stores and cafés.

View of Londontown
View of Londontown Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

It’s located right in the middle of Seven Dials, which consists of a tiny center area and then seven streets that extend from the center. It has such a fun Greenwich Village vibe… but maybe didn’t quite have that vibe in the old days when the center area was used for public hangings. Let’s forget that ever happened.

Anyhoo, back in 2011, I wrote about seeing the British production of Brief Encounter on Broadway. It’s in the second volume of my book Seth’s Broadway Diary (the one with Sutton Foster on the cover). Here’s the excerpt about the show:

We just saw Brief Encounter and LOVED it. There was so much creativity in the direction and I was so impressed that the cast members were not only great actors but also great musicians. There is non-stop music (mainly Nöel Coward songs) throughout the whole show, performed by the cast who sing amazing harmony and play all of their own instruments. I was a classical piano major at Oberlin Conservatory, and one of my favorite pieces has always been the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto. Turns out, that music is the theme of the show, and the cast performed it as a choral number at pivotal moments. The arrangement was so beautiful and there was something so moving about hearing it sung that I literally began to cry while they were singing it. It's definitely the kind of show I'd see more than once…with a hefty supply of tissues.

Well, I said I wanted to see it more than once and I did! Brief Encounter is playing again on the West End and James and I bought tickets for the Wednesday night show. Originally a one-act play by Coward, Brief Encounter is best-known as a 1945 film so in keeping with the site-specific theatre that London is doing (like putting Sweeney Todd in a pie shop), the show took place in an old movie house. Perfect!

P.S. It’s still a tearjerker. And I’m still obsessed with the cast singing that Rachmaninov concerto. Just as gorgeous as I remember. I’m dying to find a video of them singing it. Here’s the actual concerto.

James and I also decided we wanted to see at least one show we never heard of so we picked a new musical called Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. So glad we did. It was great! I love the story of how the show came to be: A few years ago, Jamie Campbell was 15 years old and living in County Durham, a former mining village. He loved the art of drag and decided he wanted to go to his graduation prom in a dress. He then thought it would be a good idea to have a documentary made about his experience not only to share it with the world, but also because he thought he’d have less of a chance getting beat up for wearing a “frock” if there were cameras around. Smart!

But how does someone in a small, not wealthy town have a documentary made about them? He decided to be industrious, went on the internet and literally searched “How to get a documentary made.” So on the nose! He sent his idea to the various companies that came up. Silence. Only one company, Firecracker, replied. They took forever to respond because he had initially sent it to an email that wasn’t really used anymore. But it didn’t matter… they made the documentary, called it Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 and it was shown on BBC3.

Arbitrarily, director Jonathan Butterell happened to see it and loved Jamie’s combination of confidence and insecurity and he was especially moved by the story of the relationship between Jamie and his working class mom (or, as they say, “mum”). It reminded him of his own upbringing with his mother in government housing. He decided the story could be a musical, put together a creative team, and got the show commissioned to play a three-week-run in Sheffield (which is not close to London).

There was lots of positive buzz about it and on the final matinée, Nica Burns, who owns the Apollo Theatre showed up. Right after the show, she approached Jonathan and told him she would move it to the West End! It’s so Cinderella-esque!

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie opened this year and was nominated for the Olivier for Best Musical! If you haven’t read the winners, I don’t want to ruin the reveal. I will however give you a hint and say that one of the shows it competed against was Hamilton. You do the math.

Read: WHO WON AT THE 2018 OLIVIER AWARDS?

Regardless, James and I were obsessed with John McCrea, who plays Jamie. Wow, is he good. It’s the kind of acting I’m obsessed with because it’s so natural and off-the-cuff that I actually think he’s improvising. I interviewed him for Seth Speaks; the interview will start airing this Friday at 7PM on SiriusXM 72. And I have to thank Playbill because one of the reasons he agreed to the interview so quickly is because he’s a huge fan of my Obsessed! videos. Still got it! #internationally.

I asked him about his theatre experience and he told me that he had done Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on the West End when he was a kid. I assumed he was the lead little boy but he told me he wasn’t “good enough” to be that role. He instead played “unnamed sewer child” and didn’t enter until well into Act 2. John said that one night his entire dance school came to see him do the show but the set broke halfway into the show. It couldn’t get fixed and finally the audience was told to go home. Turns out, John’s entrance was so late into the show that all of the people who came to watch him perform, all 200 of them, never even saw him come onstage! What a wonderful school trip.

By the time he got out of college, his career was on the fritz and he didn’t have an agent. A friend of his worked for an agent and called him; she said there was a workshop of a new musical (you guessed it, ...Jamie) that he was right for and she’d submit him secretly even though she could get into trouble for doing it. Well, he was perfect for the role, got cast in the workshop, went with the show to the West End, and just got nominated for an Olivier! Here’s his fabulous performance of the opening number on the Oliviers.

John Barrowman and Seth Rudetsky
John Barrowman and Seth Rudetsky

All right, I’ll write tons about John Barrowman next week. I’ll leave you with this: He loves to have fun and is a major prankster. Here’s a photo from our rehearsal for the show. And, speaking of pranks, he has one planned and about to go off; one of his friends is about to move back into her giant manse in L.A. because the renovation is almost over. Before he flew to London, he went to her house, schmoozed her housekeeper to get him access and went to her kitchen. Why? Because he bought a disgusting “Zombie Baby” doll and placed it prominently in her fridge. Not only is it terrifying-looking, but it’s light activated so when she opens the door to get some food, it will suddenly start convulsing. I’m super impressed by his commitment!

During each performance, we let the audience film one song so I’ll end the column with his beautiful rendition of “I Made It Through The Rain” from our first performance at Leicester Square. I love it! Watch it here.

Peace out!

And since Obsessed! led to meeting John McCrea, here’s one of me with Lindsay Mendez who just opened in the new revival of Carousel last week:

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