Did Shakespeare get it right with Romeo and Juliet?
& Juliet (Photo: https://andjulietthemusical.co.uk/)
Arriving from Broadway, & Juliet has landed in Melbourne with an incredible Australian cast line-up, a run of sold-out previews and a glamourous opening night.
High profile guests including Lisa Millar, Chloé Hayden and Aubrey Haive were present on the red carpet for the March 9 premiere.
& Juliet presents a retelling of William Shakespeare’s classic tale of “Juliet and her Romeo”. Except this one is definitely not the “story of… woe” which Shakespeare gave us so many years ago.
Because… what would happen if Juliet survived? What if Romeo’s death wasn’t the end of her story?
David West Read’s brilliant writing has produced an intricate combination of comedy and drama, which has blossomed into a musical which tactfully addresses serious messages about acceptance, love and feminism, whilst remaining light-hearted and cheerful.
& Juliet is in many ways not a ‘classic’ musical, for one thing it is a ‘jukebox’ musical – “a musical that features hit songs of a popular music group or genre” – songs are performed from Katy Perry’s Roar, Celine Dion’s That’s the Way It Is to Dolly Parton’s Romeo and Backstreet Boys’ I Want it That Way.
Thus, & Juliet has attracted a whole new crowd to Shakespeare.
I was sceptical about the idea of a jukebox musical, having only been familiar with Mamma Mia and Moulin Rouge! both of which are particularly iconic and the concept of something living up to their magnificence was beyond my sights. Likewise the concept of a modern, musical version of Shakespeare seemed like a gap a bit too big to jump.
Yet after attending the final preview, I was – as both a passionate Shakespearian and theatre-goer – gleefully surprised when & Juliet exceeded all my expectations.
Popular songs woven into the story was accepted as more comical than I’d thought it would be which allowed for the understanding that these songs have their own context and interpretation for each individual audience member and they have now gained a new Romeo-and-Juliet-inspired one.
Likewise, including more modern and classic songs provided endless laughter for all audience members – from young children to people well past their 70s.
The staging too was a spectacle, with epic confetti cannons and the sign which read ‘& Juliet’ wove its way seamlessly throughout the musical.
Amy Lehpamer (who portrayed Anne Hathaway – not the actress, Shakespeare’s wife!) and Rob Mills (William Shakespeare) were a well-crafted and endlessly entertaining dynamic duo.
They had natural comedic repartee combined with serious conversations about the role of women throughout history, especially those who have been overshadowed by their husbands, as Anne has been by her world-renowned playwright and poet husband.
Likewise, Lorinda May Merripor as Juliet herself was spectacular. She had discontented-teen-whose-parents-were-trying-to-marry-her-off on point, and her energy carried the musical from song to song and dance to dance.
Accompanying Merripor was a cast of talented and unique singers, dancers and actors who welcomed the audience into their story with interactive elements of the tale.
It’s not often that a musical gets an entire audience out of their chairs singing and dancing along!
The most enjoyable part of my evening was watching Casey Donovan as Angélique (more commonly known as ‘Nurse’) and Hayden Tee as Lance embark on a hilarious rollercoaster of a relationship which the audience could not get enough of.
Their story combined classic elements of romantic comedy as well as Angélique’s internal battle.
Angelique was given a chance to dicover herself external to Juliet’s story which demonstrated the complex relationships and stories that readers of Shakespeare have not been privy to.
This is particularly significant for characters such as ‘Nurse’ who was not even given a name in the original play.
& Juliet is currently playing in the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, it is a musical for families, couples, friends, lovers of Shakespeare, lovers of musicals, truly, a spectacle for everyone!