“For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” But does it have to be this way? Anne Hathaway (down from Stratford-upon-Avon on her night off) certainly doesn’t think it should, so instead of sitting back and watching her husband’s latest play she sets about re-writing the ending with him – Romeo and Juliet will never be the same again…
The latest jukebox musical to hit the West End is & Juliet; an alternative story about Juliet Capulet set to the music and lyrics of pop songwriter Max Martin (with a book from David West Read). In true Shakespearean fashion, there are twists and turns through several plots, as Juliet, best friend May, nurse Angelique and even the Shakespeares try their best to find a happy ending – all in the form of a musical within a musical. After all the sacrifices she’s made, Anne wants a play in which she can recognise herself, but her husband’s all about the drama – who will keep control of the quill? And will Juliet ever get a say in the events of her own life?
Very often in the field of jukebox musicals the soundtrack is made up of songs from a single band or artist, and normally tend to be biographical shows (established artists turning their hands to original scores for the stage), so this does help & Juliet to stand out a bit. A recent attempt to draw songs together from different bands to make a jukebox musical (though these obviously came from different songwriters too) was the ill-fated Knights of the Rose last summer: a cringe-fest that tried way too hard. Though it’s fair to say that & Juliet also has defects in the book department (it’s kind of ironic that we have a man writing about a woman who’s telling her husband to write women better, and not quite hitting the mark himself), and there are too many songs (just because it’s a musical doesn’t mean you have to sing about every teeny little thing), but the fact that it commits wholeheartedly to the cheesiness overrides this to some extent. It’s the camp classic that Knights of the Rose could only dream of being.
For some, the chosen songs will have been the soundtrack to their teenage years (not so much for rock fans like me) and there’s an undeniable thrill when you get to hear this kind of thing performed live, not to mention the nostalgia hit for that extra feel-good factor. It’s also admirable that they’re trying to put across themes of female empowerment and the value of being true to yourself; I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman may be greeted with titters from some sections of the audience at the beginning, but the power & honesty of Arun Blair-Mangat’s performance wins them round by the end, and Miriam-Teak Lee’s Juliet has everyone in the palm of her hand as soon as she makes her first appearance (not least during her triumphant Roar).
The prospect of seeing Lee in a leading role was one of the big draws for me (particularly after seeing her cover Angelica in Hamilton last year), and she easily surpasses any expectations. She has an excellent sense of comedy, which fits in well with the tone of the show, and belts out a wealth of solos with seeming ease (Oops! …I Did It Again encapsulates both of these things perfectly).
Even for someone like me, who’d take bass guitars over boy bands any day, there’s lots to enjoy; without spoiling any plot points, I just want to draw your attention to It’s My Life and Everybody as two massive laugh-out-loud moments. Oliver Tompsett is clearly having a blast as an alternative version of everyone’s favourite bard, and Jordan Luke Gage gives a delightfully OTT Romeo – plus David Bedella and Melanie La Barrie make an hilarious & wonderful double act as Lance and Nurse. Credit also to Dillon Scott-Lewis for a confident and enthusiastic performance covering the role of Francois – the character is incredibly likeable, and Scott-Lewis really comes into his own as the De Bois Band number approaches.
You can tell the show has good intentions, and if you’re up for a bit of a West End party then Shaftesbury Theatre is the place you need to be – as long as you enjoy the music, I’d say you’re guaranteed to have a good time. If (like me) this kind of music isn’t your cup of tea, there’s still lots to appreciate – and you should still leave with a smile on your face.
My verdict? A camp classic that’s a perfect nostalgia hit for children of the 90s, and a guaranteed hit for fans of the music – this isn’t the Shakespeare you’ll recognise from your schooldays…
& Juliet runs at Shaftesbury Theatre until 30 May 2020. Tickets are available online or from the box office.
Post courtesy of CheapTheatreTickets.com: https://www.cheaptheatretickets.com/