Romelo Urbi steps out in Ray of Light Theatre's 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday May 14, 2024
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Romelo Urbi in a promotional photo for 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'
Romelo Urbi in a promotional photo for 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'

Romelo Urbi, poised for breakout local stardom as he takes on the title role in Ray of Light Theatre's upcoming Bay Area premiere of "Everybody's Talking About Jamie," arches a finely tweezed eyebrow when asked about his first musical theater experience.

"I went to high school in Union City and I was in show choir," said the 25-year-old Filipino-American performer in a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "It was like 'Glee' but with basic movement, not full-on choreography. A lot of the drama kids in our school weren't really singers, so our music teacher pushed some of us choir kids to do the musicals. I was in the ensemble of my first show sophomore year. It was 'The Producers.' Looking back on it now, it seems pretty weird, all these brown kids doing that particular show."

(The characters in the Mel Brooks film adaptation are largely Jewish New Yorkers and Aryan Germans).

Urbi added, "Senior year we did 'In the Heights' which made more sense and was a lot of fun."

Romelo Urbi  

A relatable story
"Everybody's Talking About Jamie," which celebrates a ballsy small town 16-year-old's simultaneous quest for community acceptance and drag superstardom also makes sense to Urbi.

The musical, by Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae, is a fictional take on the 2011 BBC documentary "Jamie: Drag Queen at 16." Developed in Sheffield, England, the show debuted on the West End in 2017, where it was nominated for an Olivier Award as best new musical.

A 2022 Los Angeles production featured Bianca del Rio in the role of Loco Chanelle, Jamie's mentor, a part that will be played by J. Conrad Frank in the Ray of Light production. A film version was distributed globally on Amazon Prime.

"I'm very connected to Jamie," said Urbi, who paused to note that when he first took on the role, "Jamie might actually have been a little bit ahead of me. In high school, I was out to a few close friends, but not to my family or in general. But then in college, I was like, 'Fuck it!' Here I am, this is me."

And what about drag?

"I didn't really have any drag experience going into the show and I don't consider myself a RuPaul diehard," said Urbi. "So, coming into the part, I felt like there was so much I had to learn in order to play the part. But the story is about Jamie's coming of age, right? I feel like I'm learning along with Jamie. I'm at an era of my life where I'm experimenting a little more with make-up as part of my queerness. So much of the process has been about understanding the relationship between my experience and Jamie's. I'm figuring out who we are together."

Director Alex Kirschner  

Next gen joy
"Jamie is the kid I wish I'd been when I was 16," said Alex Kirschner, 40, a longtime behind-the-scenes presence at Ray of Light who is helming this production after a 10-year directing hiatus.

Kirschner's last directorial gig was in 2014 with "Triassic Parq," the trans-asaurus dino musical; he's been biding his time as a public relations exec at Apple.

"Unlike in so many older queer stories, Jamie is not at all a sad kid," said Kirschner. "He's incredibly confident in himself and knows who he wants to be. It's the world around him that needs to get up to speed. What drew me into the show when I first saw the video recording of the London production was the love that Jamie has for himself and the love between Jamie and his mother, who turns out to have a fantasy world, too.

"When I came out of the closet, my mother was one of my strongest champions, and doing this show feels like I'm sending a love letter to her."

Future possibility
While taking great pleasure in the experience of bringing Jamie to life, Urbi says he's unsure of his next steps in pursuing a music theater career.

"As soon as I heard the music to 'Jamie,' which is so pop and catchy and I found out his story, I was like, put me in! I related to this part so much."

And Urbi recently performed in "Larry: The Musical" about Filipino American Labor Leader Larry Itliong at the Brava Theatre.

"That was great," Urbi says, "but as a queer Filipino person, I don't really see myself represented on stage very much. I'm feeling a bit more picky now about what I want to play. But when people ask me what my dream roles are, I'm not sure that they've even been written yet.

"If gender didn't matter, I'd love to play Eurydice in 'Hadestown.'"

'Everybody's Talking About Jamie,' June 1-23. $20-$55. Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St.

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