John Yap

Review: & JULIET at The Shaftesbury Theatre

& Juliet the Musical Do hit songs make hit Musicals? They may not, but they certainly make enjoyable and fun Musicals. & JULIET which opened at The Shaftesbury Theatre on November 20 is certainly fun and enjoyable.

Shakespeare and his plays have been fertile grounds for the Musical Theatre to plough. Rodgers and Hart adapted THE COMEDY OF ERRORS for THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE. Cole Porter used the premise of a touring production of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW for his KISS ME, KATE!, Bernstein and Sondheim borrow the story of ROMEO AND JULIET for their WEST SIDE STORY

Max Martin has written some of the biggest hit songs for singers such as Britney Spears, Back Street Boys, NSYNC, Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande. These provide the soundtrack for David West Read’s story imagining that Shakespeare’s wife has come up with an alternative ending to ROMEO AND JULIET.

Max Martin’s vast catalogue of contains a large number of hits. Naturally most of his famous songs are employed in this musical. The audience’s familiarity with the material, instantly rouses and energizes them as each old favourite is performed. The majority are power ballads belted by the cast and loudly miked. However, the overuse of such similar sounding songs can be wearing and monotonous to those in the audience who are not disposed to such pop anthems.

The musical is a typical “juke box” musical with set pieces of “pre-loved” songs in between some rudimentary dialogue. The play is secondary but on those terms, this team have succeeded with the targeted audience. The mostly young crowd on the night I attended sang and swayed with great enthusiasm and high spirits.

Here’s the plot: Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway decides to raise her voice in support of female solidarity. She insists that the ending of Shakespeare’s latest play, Romeo and Juliet should be changed. Juliet will not kill herself. She then demands that she co-write the “new” version with Shakespeare. In this new version, Juliet survives. During Romeo’s funeral, Juliet finds out that Romeo was a liar and has been promiscuous with several other lovers. To mend her broken heart, Juliet runs off to Paris with her nurse and male gay friend May for some fun.

In Paris, May meets and falls in love with Francois. Francois who is uncertain of his sexuality, meets and falls in love with Juliet. Francois proposes to Juliet. Juliet decides to marry Francois, just as Francois starts to have feelings for May. In Act Two we discover that Romeo did not die either. He goes to Paris to look for Juliet. Juliet rebuffs Romeo citing his unfaithfulness. She’s determined to marry Francois until she learns that Francois and May have fallen in love with each other and her wedding to Francois is called off. During all of this, Lance (Francois’ father) and Juliet’s Nurse rekindles their love affair after being apart for years.

The Musical ends with three weddings, Juliet and Romeo, Francois and May, Lance and the Nurse. Anne Hathaway then demands that since the new version is Juliet’s story, the new title for the play should drop Romeo’s name and be called & JULIET instead.

Miriam-Teak Lee, fresh from her performance in HAMILTON plays Juliet. She dances and belts her songs perfectly. Cassidy Janson who previously impressed us with her performances in BEAUTIFUL and CHESS plays Anne Hathaway. She sings sweetly and powerfully. West End leading man, Oliver Tompsett plays Shakespeare and delivers his songs proficiently. Melanie La Barrie plays the Nurse and David Bedella plays Lance, the lost lover of the Nurse. Both of them display their comedic and singing talents. Newcomers Jordan Luke Gage, Tim Mahendran, Jocasta Almgill and Ivan De Freitas play and sing the parts Romeo, Francois, Lady and Lord Capulet respectively. The production is colourful and loud as directed by Luke Sheppard.

The company danced Jennifer Weber’s choreography with youthful energised zeal. The songs and production numbers are staged like “Pop Videos” and those on “Britain Got Talents”.

Whilst & JULIET is not exactly a Shakespeare musical, it achieves what it sets out to do. A fun and enjoyable jukebox show for the young and the young at heart.

This production is definitely recommended for those who enjoy high energy dance routines and terrific performers belting out songs you’ll already know and love.

& Juliet tickets