Sondheim Theatre, New York
Musical theatre’s new guilty pleasure, & Juliet is an accelerated endorphin rush that leaves the cheering crowd on a giddy high.
A jukebox musical so in touch with its identity that it literally starts with a jukebox on the stage, & Juliet corrals more than two dozen of 100-plus hits of mega successful songwriter Max Martin into a sassy, sexy musical comedy. Achieving the same comic touch of famous song recognition as Moulin Rouge, the musical rips through songs faster than you can you say “Who sang that?” (Hint: the answer is often Britney, or Katy, or Backstreet Boys, or… you get the drift).
With a very amusing book by David West Read, & Juliet takes a modern lens magnifying glass to the deconstruction of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, playing the game of “what if” to the continuing story after the original famous play is over. Read uses the meta device of having Will Shakespeare and his determinedly feminist wife Anne Hathaway squabble over plot points as their work unfolds around them on stage. Both also take on roles in the story. New inventions for & Juliet include Juliet’s non-binary BFF May, and Parisian father and son Lance and François de Bois.
Luke Sheppard’s direction and Jennifer Weber’s choreography are sky high in energy; it is almost as if they do not trust the audience’s attention if they relax the colour and movement for even a moment. With the amount of visual effects, scenic changes, costume changes and confetti cannons, the staging borders on being over-produced but there is certainly plenty of bang for everyone’s Broadway buck.
With all this hoopla, it is pleasing to note that & Juliet is no hollow spectacle, populated as it is with appealing characters played by terrific performers. The show is genuinely engaging, and somewhat unpredictable, and the music is utterly infectious.
At this performance, the role of Juliet was played by Rachel Webb. Clearly a star on the rise, Webb plays the massive role as if it were totally her own, easily winning the audience over with her magnetism and sheer talent.
With a charming stage presence, Stark Sanders is a cheerily likeable lead as Will. Betsy Wolfe delights as Anne, quickly gaining audience affection and keeping them in her hand all night.
Newly minted discoveries Justin David Sullivan (May), Philippe Arroyo (François) and Ben Jackson Walker (Romeo) are each excellent in their own way. Sullivan is particularly endearing as May, tenderly bringing the audience towards them with their sweet, sympathetic performance. The romance between May and François (who even have their own Marius and Cosette meet cute moment) is beautifully paced and developed.
Melanie La Barrie (of Matilda fame) has fabulous tricks up her sleeve as Juliet’s blossoming Nurse, Angélique.
Finally, the most luxurious of casting comes in the form of opera and musical theatre star Paulo Szot as Lance de Bois.
As close to a guaranteed good night out as can be had by young people in the theatre, & Juliet is set to usher countless new fans into a love of musical theatre.
& Juliet plays at Sondheim Theatre, New York. For Broadway tickets, click here.
& Juliet plays at Regent Theatre, Melbourne from 26 February 2023. For Melbourne tickets, click here.
Photos: Matthew Murphy