& Juliet (Regent Theatre) - 130 minutes, plus a 20-minute interval
A riotously fun, thoroughly entertaining musical for our new, enlightened times, & Juliet picks up Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet where it ended and kicks it up a gear.
It does so after the Bard himself (Rob Mills) is challenged by his wife Anne Hathaway (Amy Lehpamer), who has suffered as second fiddle to his writing for far too long.
Photos by Daniel Boud
With her input, she wants him to reconfigure the story of the star-crossed lovers.
The new premise is that Juliet (Lorinda May Merrypor) doesn’t kill herself after she set eyes upon Romeo’s dead body.
First up, at his funeral Juliet is mortified to learn that she wasn’t Romeo’s (Blake Appelqvist) only love.
In fact, truth be known, he was quite the womaniser.
Her parents, furious at the shame she has brought to the family, resolve to send her to a nunnery.
That’s when Juliet hightails it to Paris.
She does so accompanied by her best friend, May (Jesse Dutlow), who is transgender, along with newly found friend Anne Hathaway.
“Yes”, both Shakespeare and Hathaway find ways to insert themselves into the journey.
Also on the trip is Juliet’s loyal nursemaid, Angelique (Casey Donovan).
On their first night in the City of Love they gate crash a party that nobleman Lance Du Bois (Hayden Tee) is holding to try to find a wife for his son.
So it is that Juliet Capulet meets Francois Du Bois (Yashith Fernando), whom she calls Frankie.
She implores him to be bold and the pair forms an instant connection.
That is but a start of a tale, which has at its heart being true to oneself and girl power.
& Juliet has been cleverly conceived and written by David West Read.
In January 2016 he was asked to pitch a musical based around songwriter Max Martin’s voluminous catalogue.
That is when he started playing Martin’s hits – many about young love – over and over.
& Juliet is, indeed, a story about a heroine in waiting, but also delves into the relationship between Shakespeare and Hathaway.
The coming-of-age jukebox musical opened in the West End in November 2019 and on Broadway in October 2022.
Musically and theatrically, it has huge appeal.
The 27 hit songs and one original number fit perfectly into the narrative and help kick along the story.
I speak of music performed by The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Jessie J, Kesha, Demi Lovato, Katy Perry and Ariana Grande.
There are numbers popularised by Bon Jovi, Ellie Goulding, Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, The Weeknd, Celine Dion, NSYNC, Pink and Justin Timberlake.
Think Larger Than Life, I Want it That Way, Baby One More Time, Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely, Show Me Love and I Kissed a Girl.
That is not to overlook Since U Been Gone, Whataya Want From Me, One More Try, Everybody (Backstreet’s Back), As Long As You Love Me and Roar.
The up-tempo tunes bring with them wild audience acclamation.
The biggest cheers and wolf whistles are, in fact, for a scene involving a boy band.
Mind you, rousing solos by Merrypor, Donovan and Lehpamer are also magnificently received.
Laughs are frequent and robust, driven by smart (and, often, deliberately corny) one liners.
The modern dance moves and choreography by Jennifer Weber is poised and polished.
The constantly changing set design, utilising evocative projections, is stylish and transformative.
The lead actress, Lorinda May Merrypor, is a revelation as Juliet.
With a strong grasp of character, she is confident from the get-go. Vocally, she is superb, injecting great feeling into her numbers.
Amy Lehpamer is the consummate professional, who steals much of the limelight with her characterisation and vocal acuity as Anne.
Songstress Casey Donovan makes an immediate impression, exuding a “don’t mess with me” presence as Angelique.
Rob Mills plays up the self-love that comes with being, arguably, the greatest writer of all time. Musically, he is commanding.
Hayden Tee milks a faux French accent and talks up the achievements of his character, Lance.
Jesse Dutlow has a mellifluous voice and channels indignance in May.
Newcomer Yashith Fernando brings a refreshing exuberance to Francois.
Blake Appelqvist ensures Romeo is brought down a few pegs as the yarn unfolds, with a greater sense of self-awareness.
In fact, all the voices in this production are sensational and the nine-piece band knocks it out of the park.
Direction from Luke Sheppard and musical supervision, orchestrations and arrangements from Bill Sherman don’t miss a beat.
& Juliet is cheeky and cheery, bold and brassy, in short, a great night out and the way forward for the next generation of inclusive musical.
It is playing at Regent Theatre until 14th May, 2023.