‘&Juliet’ — a reason to sing 90 tunes! - AmNews Curtain Raiser


Monday, January 23, 2023

‘&Juliet’ — a reason to sing 90 tunes!

 ‘&Juliet’ — a reason to sing 90 tunes! 

By Magrira

Please take a moment and give it up for the creative ingenuity that created the new, Broadway musical “&Juliet” because much like William Shakespeare this production dared to be different and demanded (demanded) to be heard.

I love “&Juliet” for having the strength to will itself into existence.  Imagine if the ending of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” didn’t end with a double suicide and that both of the star-crossed lovers lived to love another day. That’s the premise of the show. 

And to help you imagine such a bold re-telling “& Juliet” uses 32 songs by Max Martin and a host of rotating collaborators (Max Martin and Friends) with music that pretty much defined the 90s to today. Some of those songs were made popular by Demi Lovato, P!nk, Robyn, the Backstreet Boys, and more.

The book of “& Juliet,” written by David West Read (“Schitt’s Creek”), is told through Anne Shakespeare, William Shakespeare’s wife (Stark Sands), who fights with her husband to rewrite “Romeo and Juliet” with a happier ending for Juliet. She suggests that instead of un-aliving Juliet (Lorna Courtney) she wakes up and goes on a journey to find herself. Along the path of self-discovery, she realizes that her “Romeo” isn’t perfect nor faithful and is actually a jerk. So to heal her wounds and to find love she runs away to Paris and soon gets involved in another romance. 

This might sound like a childish premise but I promise you — it works — thanks to Read’s clever dialogue and evident respect for the source material. It’s also highlighted that in the classic play, Romeo and Juliet only knew each other for four days and were in their early teens, not yet of legal age by today's legal standards. 

Now to the use of the music which is so very, very, very clever.  Certainly using existing pop tunes isn’t original, the play has “Moulin Rouge!”,  “Something Rotten!”, and “Six” to thank for that. But “&Juliet” musically holds its own. 

From the moment the characters (and, they are all characters) are introduced it’s clear what lovers will eventually be hit by Cupid’s bow.  The play aims to give everyone a happy ending perhaps since the original did no such thing. 

One could argue that the plot is thin but it’s meant (I think) to be fantastical so a clever and logical plot would/could/would hinder the whimsical nature. I’ve heard a few audience members and colleagues referring to the musical as a “jukebox” but I have a problem remembering what that is, exactly. And on the day I saw the show, it was packed with 11, 12, and 13-year-olds who were rocking to every musical number.  

I listened for the giggles thinking that some of the jokes would go over the kids’ heads; it didn’t. The songs helped shape the humor in unexpected ways. The manner that the song lyrics were broken down made the songs feel (often) like dialogue used to fill in the blanks as they were fully integrated into the scenes and fit the characters like a hand in a glove. 

“&Juliet” never takes itself too seriously. It’s in on the joke and is laughing with the happy audience. 

Visually the show spoke to me before it even started. The set (by Soutra Gilmour) was bright and cherry. The video and projections (by Andrezy Goulding) give that modern touch choosing to keep the focus on the performers which I thought was a careful design choice. 

The costumes (by Paloma Young) were perfect blending the meld corsets and doublets with contemporary clothing like joggers and Doc Martens. Everything that was worn by the cast could rock the streets in any part of the world and be considered cool in any language. 

Now to the performances which were all top-notch. If the main character, Juliet was miscast the entire show would have fallen flat on its’ pretty little face. Thank the “theater goddesses and gods” that they hired Courtney — who I could not take my eyes off. 

Ms. Courtney eats the role leaving not a single crumb. Her voice belts songs like she’s just talking. A diva in the making? I think so. 

Wolfe as Anne is pitch-perfect and you actually feel for her situation. Melanie La Barrie as the Nurse delivers surprises and in the end, comes out as a stand-out performer as well. Philippe Arroyo as Juliet’s new love interest handles musical comedy very nicely, a long career is in front of him for sure. 

Remember, this is 2023 and equality is the theme. So along with the 

heterosexual couples the LGBTQ+ community is represented and I would venture to offer that this musical is undeniably queer. It definitely has that “yaaaas!” energy.  In the storyline, they celebrate gender nonconformity and there is clearly body diversity in the cast along with racial inclusion. The ensemble also features some nonbinary performers which make the entire musical feel authentic. 

In fact, one of the main characters, Juliet’s best friend, May (Justin David Sullivan) is nonbinary and I am happy to share has a happy ending. It’s a stand-out performance and message. 

“& Juliet” has marked its presence beautifully. It’s so much fun that I would not be surprised if this becomes the type of show people visit more than once. Why do you ask? The music, the talented and diverse cast, and the sheer amount of confetti showered on the audience. My colleague, Richard Rodriquez shared a trick on how to catch the cascade, just open your playbill and let it fall. 

‘& Juliet’ now playing at Stephen Sondheim Theatre.  A presentation by Max Martin, Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page, Jenny Peterson, Martin Dodd, Eva Price, Lukasz Gottwald, Independent Presenters NEtwork, Jack Lane, 42nd.CLub, Shivhans Pictures, Sing Out, Louise!, Kim Szarynski, Tenebaum/Keyes, Barry Weiss, and John Gore Organizations of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Max Martins and Friends and book by David West Read. 

Directed by Luke Sheppard. Choreographed by Jennifer Weber. Sets, Soutra Gilmour; lights, Howard Hudson; costumes, Paloma Young; sound, Gareth Own; projections/video, Andrzej Goulding; music supervision, orchestrations, and arrangements, Bill Sherman; hair/wig, J. Jared Janas; production stage manager, David Lober.

Starring Lorna Courtney, Paulo Szot, Betsy Wolfe, Stark Sands, Justin David Sullivan, Melanie La Barrie, Ben Jackson Walker, Philippe Arroyo, Brandon Antonio, Michael Ivan Carrier, Nico DeJesus, Nicholas Edwards, Virgil Gadson, Bobby “Pocket” Horner, Joomin Hwang, Mean Kane, Alaina Vi Maderal, Daniel J. Maldonado, Joe Moeller, Brittany Nicholas, Veronica Otim, Jasmine Rafael, Matt Raffy, Tiernan Tunnicliffe, and Rachel Webb.

To purchase tickets go to andjulietbroadway.com

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