& Juliet is the cheeky, bold and exuberant story of what would happen if William Shakespeare’s Juliet had been penned not only by the bard himself, but with heaps of help and harassment from his wife, Anne Hathaway. Directed by Luke Sheppard (In the Heights) Juliet is presented with the opportunity to decide her own fate and she is surrounded by strong women and mostly pathetic men.
With songs coming fast and furious in this new musical, which is on its way to West End at the beginning of November, there is no time for us to contemplate what William Shakespeare would have thought about this show, stemmed from a book by David West Read.
The cast is led by Miriam-Teak Lee as Juliet, a heroine who is very much alive during this incarnation, as the show takes us on a new story of ‘what if’s?’ Bemused Shakespeare (Oliver Tompsett) shares his quill with Anne Hathaway (Cassidy Jansen) as we meet Juliet’s nurse (Melanie Barrie) a woman who is a fierce protector of her charge while at the same time experiencing the joy of a lost love affair with Lance (David Bedella).
Romeo (Jordan Luke Gage) arrives on stage in a blaze of musical glory as we are immersed in the prolific catalogue of Marten music, poor Romeo is in for a bit of a shock when he realises that perhaps Juliet’s heart didn’t hang around too long before finding a potential love interest in Lance’s son (Tim Mahendran). Juliet’s best friend May (Arun Blair-Manget) is best friend and confident who also has a secret love, but will it be realised?
The whole cast with their superb powerful voices provide us with outstanding renditions of pop anthems from the last 30 years, including …”Baby One More Time”, “Everybody” (Backstreet’s Back), “Love Me Like You Do” and “Can’t Feel My Face”.
Songs previously performed by artists such as Katy Perry, Ellie Goulding, Kesha, Jessie J, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson, are re-orchestrated and performed by the cast, not only in the show but also on their forthcoming album, which is due to be released at the end of November.
A seemingly more contrived plot in the first half of the show gives way after the interval when the songs have a better fit and the characters become more rounded. We can identify with their longings, dreams and aspirations. There is no original song material, just rip-roaring numbers from passed chart hits and it could be argued that they could be a vehicle to carry any storyline from any era. However, the message is clear, anyone can take control and write their own story, even Juliet!
Inventive and resourceful set design by Souter Gilmour takes us from Verona to a stage fit for any pop concert. And there is creative costume design by Paloma Young and energetic choreography from Jennifer Weber.
It was a delight to see the musicians also invited on stage for the finale. And the audience certainly showed their approval with high hand clapping and a standing ovation.
& Juliet is a rebellious explosion of fun and glorious popular music in a mix that demonstrates when it comes to love – timing, place and choice are of equal importance.★ ★ ★ ★
& Juliet is at the Opera House Manchester from 10 September to 12 October 2019.