Taking inspiration from Shakespeare’s infamous tragic love tale, the musical & Juliet imagines a sequel that starts off with an alternative ending to the story: one in which Juliet, upon seeing Romeo dead, does not end her life but rather leaves Verona and goes off with her friends to Paris in search of fulfilling experiences. The show features the songs of ultra-successful music producer Max Martin (think Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Katy Perry and the like): this fact alone immediately filters the type of audience that is likely to enjoy the musical.
The story begins with Shakespeare himself (Oliver Tompsett) proudly putting the finishing touches on his latest play, Romeo and Juliet. His wife Anne (Cassidy Janson) is not so keen on the ending, and she persuades him to rewrite it according to her suggestions. Thus, Juliet (Miriam-Teak Lee) is seen embarking on her own adventure as she leaves behind her parents and her short-lived marriage to Romeo. She goes partying in the French capital while the playwright and his wife can be seen pulling the strings of the story and often disagreeing on the direction they want to take it.
The emotional dimension is expressed through songs such as I Want It That Way, …Baby One More Time, and many other chart-topping tunes that will get the audience singing along. & Juliet will undoubtedly prove to be a hit with fun-chasing theatregoers. It is unapologetically silly and cheesy, with a strong pantomime feel to it. It features strong vocal performances, cool Tudor-inspired costumes and a visually impactful set, although the plot is rather weak, with some of the action created specifically to accommodate the pop hits and justify their inclusion.
The show’s success relies heavily on the audience’s attachment to the source material, namely Shakespeare’s classic story and the songs that are ingrained in so many people’s memory, regardless of their musical tastes. What this means is that, while electrifyingly exuberant in many ways, the production is essentially a concoction of familiar elements presented in a glitzy package, with present-day hot topics such as inclusivity and empowerment filling the gaps.
Just like Martin’s pop songs, & Juliet feels formulaic and skin-deep, but it somehow hits the nail on the head when it comes to the entertainment factor, proving ultimately compelling.