Everyone knows the ending to Romeo and Juliet, but what if Juliet decided that a man wasn’t worth taking her life over? What if Juliet decided to take her happiness into her own hands? This is the tale that brand-new musical & Juliet explores.
We caught the show as it finishes up its debut run at the Manchester Opera House this week, but don’t fret – it’ll be transferring to Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End from 2nd November.
The musical is set to the songs of Swedish songwriter Max Martin, who is responsible for a record number of #1 hits for big names like Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift, taking the music of his career and creating a heart-wrenching, laugh-out-loud narrative.
The show opens with William Shakespeare (Oliver Tompsett) and his wife, Anne Hathaway (Cassidy Janson) arguing over the ending to his most famous tragedy. Anne eventually gets control of rewriting the finale, making it just the beginning for our Juliet (Miriam-Teak Lee).
After losing the love of her life and finding out that he wasn’t exactly what he appeared to be, Juliet and her friends travel to Paris on a journey of self-discovery. In search of a good time, they stumble upon a lavish renaissance ball where they meet the Overprotected Francois (Tim Mehendran) and his father, kickstarting drama and intrigue as their tales soon become intertwined.
The musical, directed by Luke Sheppard, explores important themes such as feminism and gender identity yet still maintains a comedic edge with its fantastically written script. Without a doubt, the funniest character was Janson’s Anne who doubles as Juliet’s best friend as she writes herself into the play.
Our title character, Juliet, is an effortlessly confident force to be reckoned with. She belts out song after song, starting with heartache and transitioning to empowerment throughout. Lee’s powerful vocals shine throughout the production, peaking during her feisty, fun performance of Kelly Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone.
Throughout, the audience is treated to classics such as Oops!…I Did It Again and As Long As You Love Me, as well as recent hits like I Can’t Feel My Face. A particular highlight was the Teenage Dream/Break Free mash-up hilariously sung by Melanie La Barrie and David Bedellas as characters Nurse and Lance.
Soutra Gilmour’s set design coupled with Paloma Young’s costumes were a modern renaissance dream. It gave the musical a contemporary feel to it, whilst still tipping its hat to a 1500s style rife with ruffles and corsets.
Ultimately, & Juliet is a hilarious and self-aware story of female empowerment to the soundtrack of everyone’s favourite guilty pleasures. I challenge anyone to go and not leave with a massive smile, feeling like they can take on the world.