The progressive musical celebrates self, acceptance, diversity, love and friendship.
& Juliet made its Australian debut last night at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre. The adorned historic theatre is the perfect accompaniment to this glamorous and joyous coming-of-age production.
We’re all familiar with William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – star crossed lovers from feuding families – or do we? With a book by David West Read, producers Michael Cassel AM, Martin Dodd, Tim Headington, Max Martin, Jenny Petersson and Theresa Steele Page (Michael Cassel Group in association with MTM/Leyline) have expanded on the classic tragedy.
A continuation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, & Juliet begins at the moment 13-year-old Juliet Capulet (Lorinda May Merrypor) wakes to find her beloved Romeo Montague (Blake Appelqvist) dead. Deciding not to off herself in this reimagined retelling, Juliet vows to leave fair Verona and head to Paris, France to start her own life and adventure. Along for the ride are her best friends May (Jesse Dutlow) and April (Amy Lehpamer), as well as her nurse Angelique (Casey Donovan).
While in Paris, they meet the shy and timid, François Du Bois (Yashith Fernando) and his overtly masculine father, Lance (Hayden Tee).
The story is told from the perspective of William Shakespeare (Rob Mills) and his neglected wife, Anne Hathaway (also Amy Lehpamer). From there, it takes unexpected twists and turns. No spoilers, but it’s those surprises that elevates this musical above the other offerings currently playing in Melbourne. Namely, the less you know about the show, the more you’ll enjoy it.
While it is Juliet’s story, it is as much Anne’s who projects her own life ideals upon in the 13-year-old.
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Having seen Lehpamer, Mills, Donovan and Tee in previous roles, vocally, here, they’re at their best. Merrypor holds her own against the seasoned veterans and lights up the stage with her warmth. The pocket rocket carries the beating heart of the show, and does so brilliantly. Again, modernising the material, Juliet’s struggles can be understood by any modern-day teenager.
Appelqvist, Dutlow and Fernando also excel in their respected roles, and are brilliantly backed by a well-rounded supporting cast (including seven performers making their professional debut).
More than one might expect, & Juliet is fundamentally an ensemble piece.
The costumes – by costume designer Paloma Young – are modernised for the 21st century, with nods to its respected period including corsets, bubble skirts, bustles and exaggerated sleeves. They’re bright and colourful, and a nice contrast against an otherwise simple backdrop. While scenic designer, Soutra Gilmour has cleverly designed the stage with enough set pieces to establish location and bring visual interest, the real standout is the moon shaped carousel which glides into the Parisian skyline, illuminating the theatre in a star speckled glow (created by Lighting Designer Howard Hudson).
Mention must also be given to the top-notch choreography by Jennifer Weber. Sound design by Gareth Owen was also on point on opening night.
Featuring a soundtrack of recognisable hits co-written by Swedish wordsmith and producer, Max Martin, like any jukebox musical, the lyrics don’t always make sense, but they work surprising well here, better than others. I Want It That Way (Backstreet Boys), Overprotected, Stronger and Oops!... I Did It Again (Britney Spears), I Kissed A Girl (Katy Perry), It’s My Life (Bon Jovi), Since U Been Gone (Kelly Clarkson), Whayaya Want From Me (Adam Lambert), It’s Gonna Be Me (*NSYNC) and F*ckin’ Perfect (P!nk) is perhaps when they’re at its best.
The original song – One More Try (co-written by Jessie J) – feels the most genuine. And it fits perfectly within its pop rivals. Also, anyone who grew up in the 90s will lose their shit during the performance of Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)… even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense to the story.
& Juliet is the perfect, feel-good musical in this post-pandemic world. The musical celebrates self, acceptance, diversity, love and friendship, and is progressive without being preachy (female empowerment, queer love and gender identity are all explored sensitively throughout the show).
It won’t be for everyone, but those with an open heart will leave the theatre feeling inspired and ready to take on the world. With whimsical twists, laughter and catchy songs, & Juliet should be enjoyed on multiple occasions.
For more information, head to & Juliet - A New Musical.