Yesterday I was invited to a little taste of the new musical & Juliet. The launch event was held at Jack Solomons and was buzzing with excitement and interest. Not many details had previously been known about the production and the big draw so far seems to be the music with all the hit songs featured being from Max Martin.
The official website says about this new exciting show: ‘& Juliet is the irreverent and fun-loving new West End musical that asks: what if Juliet’s famous ending was really just her beginning? What if she decided to choose her own fate? This is Juliet’s story now. So don’t tell her how it ends…’
‘Soaring with pop anthems including … Baby One More Time, Everybody (Backstreet’s Back), Love Me Like You Do and Can’t Feel My Face, & Juliet is a riotous blast of fun and glorious music that proves when it comes to love, there’s always life after Romeo’.
After yesterday I can tell you a little more. Luke Sheppard the director of the musical introduced the event welcoming the guests and then handing over to Oliver Tompsett who will be playing Shakespeare in this musical. The tone set from this point was very much tongue in cheek with the cast onstage appearing to already be somewhat in character. The first musical number we heard with lead vocals from Shakespeare himself was the backstreet boys ‘Larger Than Life’. The vocals of Oliver Tompsett are on point and give the song a fresh new appeal (and make me wonder why he was never in a boy band). With the ensemble joining in with the performance we get to see some action and some insight into the show – where we see and hear them fangirling over ‘Shakespeare’.
When chatting to Oliver at the event he described his role and the show for me.
“My character is obviously a famous playwright but my version of him is actually a little bit different to what you may be expecting, I imagine and play him as being a bit of a lad who is a bit of a wannabe boy band pop star type with a narcissistic touch – he is not pretentious, high brow or stuck up as I think some people think he was. I think just because these days Shakespeare is a highbrow piece of theatre people assume he was posh but I don’t think he was, he was working class so maybe I am not that far removed from who he was.”
I also asked Oliver to give us a bit of insight into the plot.
“Right at the top of the show, Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway shows up and says ‘why do you always write these plays without my input’ – then proceeds to come up with ideas that all of William Shakespeare’s company prefer over his, backing him into a corner where he ends up using those ideas and the show evolves from there. Anne Hathaway and William Shakespeare are semi-narrating the show where we see what would have happened if they had explored what Juliet might do if she had not killed herself. But every time things are going well, Shakespeare decides he wants the story to be a tragedy so the plot is always changing. There are also parts of the show where Anne and William pop up in the action so they become part of the play. I think because as an audience you start off watching a group of acting theatre players telling a story of Juliet you can very quickly buy into it. And why wouldn’t the director of the play just jump in and say I am going to play this part or Anne write herself into the show as Juliet’s best new friend (which Shakespeare is not happy about). By the end of the play, Shakespeare ends up playing all the cameos in play.”
Looking more and more like this story is not just empowering Juliet as the lead but also Anne emerging as the real writing talent, Oliver told me that at the end of the play Shakespeare realises that a collaboration creatively and personally is the only way for a happy life.
Which leads me along nicely to Miriam-Teak Lee who has been wonderfully cast as Juliet. Miriam jumped onto the stage to stop Oliver talking – stating this is her show – before we hear her sing some tunes that sound even better than the originals. We were also introduced to Melanie La Barrie as the Nurse who is getting her own romantic plot line with ‘love interest’ Lance, played by the newly cast David Bedella – and Tim Mahendran who plays Lance’s son and is Juliet’s potential love interest. All cast have vocals to die for and let us experience a little of their characters which has left me wanting more.
There is such a buzz in the cast that they have all become part of something really special. Everyone I spoke to was so happy to be part of this new journey and couldn’t wait to get back to working again. The cast have previously workshopped the show and Max Martin liked it so much he then attended every workshop after and stated he may just have to come and attend Manchester Opera House every night (Opening Night . What high praise from Max Martin.
& Juliet is the irreverent and fun-loving new West End musical that asks: what if Juliet’s famous ending was really just her beginning? What if she… wrote her own story?
& Juliet soars with some of the biggest pop anthems of the last 30 years from acclaimed songwriter Max Martin, including Baby One More Time, Everybody (Backstreet’s Back), Love Me Like You Do and Can’t Feel My Face, all brilliantly arranged by the Tony and Grammy Award-winning orchestrator Bill Sherman.
This timely and vibrant new musical is directed by Luke Sheppard (In the Heights) with a story by David West Read (Netflix’s Schitt’s Creek), choreography from Jennifer Weber and set design from Soutra Gilmour.
A riotous comic blast of fun and glorious pop music, & Juliet proves when it comes to love, there’s always life after Romeo…
Manchester Opera House
10th September to 12th October 2019
2nd November until March 2020
PERFORMANCE TIMES: Monday – Saturday: 7.30pm, Thursday & Saturday: 2.30pm
RUNNING TIME: TBC
AGE RESTRICTION: TBC
Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8DP