‘& Juliet’ was romantic.
From the brain of Schitts Creek creator David West Read, and featuring a huge catalogue of pop songs from legendary songwriter Max Martin, comes the upbeat, comedic and reinvigorating jukebox musical ‘& Juliet’. The show itself flips Shakespeare’s classic love story on its axis to deliver a happily ever after to a formerly tragic tale.
The plot, with heavy themes of empowerment, follows Juliet (played by the ever-talented Lorinda May Merrypor) and her friends, April (Amy Lehpamer), May (Jesse Dutlow), and nurse Angelique (Casey Donovan), on a journey across Europe and to self-discovery. It expands and modernised the notion of romance, as characters learn to love who they are and embrace what they truly want out of life.
Before the performance begins, the audience is treated to an Elizabethan-style “preliminary” with an opportunity to watch (and if you’re close enough, interact with) the background characters. When the show begins, Shakespeare himself, played by the fabulous Rob Mills, appears and gives directions to his ‘Romeo and Juliet’ cast, before being interrupted by his fiery feminist wife, Anne Hathaway (also Amy Lehpamer), who quickly takes it upon herself to rewrite Juliet as a more vivacious, confident and stronger female role, who doesn’t take crap from anyone.
A particular highlight of the show was a duet between Lehpamer and Merrypor, as Hathway and Juliet respectively. Beyond the song though, Merrypor gave Juliet a fresh and “not that innocent” personality with confidence and competence throughout the show.
As the show progressed, iconic songs, like the Backstreet Boys’ ‘I Want It That Way’, Ke$ha’s ‘Blow” and Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’, introduced audiences to a number of new and loveable characters, such as May, Juliet’s non-binary friend, Francois Dubois (Yashith Fernando), and Romeo himself (played by Blake Appelqvist).
Appelqvist’s grand entrance from the ceiling was a fun spectacle. He embodied a 90s pop-rock legend, and was an absolute joy to watch. Of course, audiences were enraptured by Casey Donovan’s Angelique, torn between staying by Juliet’s side and giving in to the romantic advances of Frenchman Lance, who was brought to life by the hysterical Hayden Lee. Together, Lee and Donovan’s energy and comedic timing filled the theatre.
The stage design, by Soutra Gilmour, was styled like a 90s skatepark meets historic-venue-restoration, and staging included a utilised a turntable, with a middle circle that could rise to create levels. For the mashup ‘Problem/Can’t Feel My Face’, and for the family band, ‘Dubois’’s, performance this was of particular affect. The moving elements of the set design offered a symbolic and physical indication of time moving forward in the show, the story and the themes of the piece.
Costuming (Paloma Young) and Hair/Makeup (Kylie Clark) gave life and colour to the vibrant world of the show. Lighting (Howard Hudson) and Choreography (Jennifer Weber) complimented the work of the Director (Luke Sheppard) and Associate Director (Anna Fox) plus the countless other creatives and magicians who brought ‘& Juliet’ to life!
The wild, empowering and hilarious adventure of ‘& Juliet’ is an absolute joy to watch as the once star-crossed lover finds a way to love herself, and turn the tables on classic notions of romance.
‘& Juliet’ is now playing at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, until July 29th, 2023. For more information, visit the official website.