It’s always exciting when a prodigious musical is due to open for the first time. While we cherish the theatre’s timeless classics, witnessing something fresh and original make its debut feel a little like you’re watching history in the making. ‘& Juliet’ already has high expectations...and why shouldn’t it? It takes its central character from Shakespeare’s most popular and beloved play (Romeo and Juliet), but brings a whole new dimension to the leading lady. It’s also set to be the musical masterpiece of celebrated Swedish songwriter, Max Martin, who is responsible for some of the most iconic songs of the 90s by superstars like Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Backstreet Boys and Bon Jovi. Simon Cowell described him as definitively ‘not human’ because of his consistency in cultivating prolific and chart-topping hits. It’s expected that Martin’s West End musical will be just as illustrious, but the production’s team has given little away about the novel stage adaptation.
After attending a special launch event at Manchester’s Impossible Bar on 26th February, TickX got the inside scoop from cast and creatives as well as a sneak peek at some of the musical numbers featured in the show. Keep reading to find out everything we know about '& Juliet' so far...
The show will officially open in Manchester on September 10th. It will run until October 12th at Manchester Opera House before moving to the Shaftesbury Theatre in the West End. It will stay in London for five months, running from 2nd November 2019 - 28th March 2020.
Reflecting on the decision to open in Manchester as opposed to the prominent theatre district in London, director Luke Sheppard said it was his dream to open in the northern city thanks to its rich culture and strong relationship with pop music.
If you don’t already know his name, you’ll certainly know his accolades. Martin has written some of the most famous songs of the past thirty years - songs that have defined eras and the careers of huge pop stars. Britney’s unforgettable debut single ‘Baby One More Time’, her red catsuit, Titanic-inspired ‘Oops!... I Did It Again’, and the fierce ‘Stronger’ were all products of Martin’s songwriting. The Backstreet Boys’ ‘Everybody (Backstreets Back)’, ‘Quit Playin’ Games’ and ‘The Call’; Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’, ‘E.T.’ and ‘The One That Got Away’; Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’; Bon Jovi’s ‘It’s My Life’ and Ariana Grande’s ‘Love Me Harder’ and ‘Into You’ are all thanks to Martin - and the list really does go on.
We were warned at the launch that if we googled Max Martin, we would be blown away by his catalogue of songs. It was true. It seems impossible that one man could be responsible for so many songs, giving rise to Cowell’s charge of Martin as ‘non human’. Go ahead and Google him yourself…
To put it in perspective, Martin’s awards include 5 Grammy Awards, The Polar Music Prize, and ASCAP Songwriter of the Year (which he won a stellar 11 times!). He is the songwriter with the most US number one singles after Paul McCartney and John Lennon, and was recently honoured in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. ‘& Juliet’ is his first ever stage production, so you know the soundtrack is going to be immense.
With such a huge inventory to choose from, the musical will be brimming with number one hits and saturated with sing-along anthems. The creative process is still in the works, but songs we know will be featured include:
Yes Martin really did write all these…! They have also been rearranged by the extraordinary Tony and Grammy Award-winning orchestrator, Bill Sherman, so expect to hear them like never before!
It’s no spoiler by recalling the tragic final scene of Shakespeare’s classic, where the two star-crossed lovers take their own lives. But this modern play posits what if Juliet put down the dagger? What if she was not the victim of destiny, but instead took charge of her life and lived by her own limits? This is essentially the core of ‘& Juliet’ (alongside its celebrated pop-heavy soundtrack), as Shakespeare’s leading lady re-evaluates her situation and embarks on a journey outside of Verona to explore different places and cultures. In other words….#RomeoWho? The end of Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' is the beginning of this modern, liberating tale of Juliet.
The creatives and cast didn't divulge much more, but Miriam-Teak Lee who plays the lead explained “Juliet fleas to Paris to find herself. She hasn’t lived her life so thinks I’m going to explore places I’ve never been, meet new people, see new places, and finds her inner strength.”
We also know that Romeo’s character has a few musical numbers. This perhaps means he still has a central role to play in Juliet’s journey. He performs ‘It’s My Life’ with Shakespeare, who is also prominently featured in the play alongside his wife ‘Anne Hathaway’. We were treated to Romeo and Shakespeare’s duet at the launch, along with Anne Hathaway’s and Juliet’s rendition of ‘That’s The Way It Is’ and Juliet’s ‘Baby One More Time’. The clue to the plot may be in the details, where the director and cast insisted that the story pays close attention to Martin’s song lyrics.
Lastly, we have been warned that there will be lots of plot twists!! The play has been written - or is currently being written - by David West Read (Netflix’s ‘Schitt’s Creek’) and will be directed by Luke Sheppard (‘In the Heights’).
While you don’t normally associate a traditional Shakespearean enthusiast with being a fan of the likes of Britney Spears so to speak, the ‘& Juliet’ team insist the play is for everyone. Oliver Tompsett who plays ‘Shakespeare’ explained that the version of the huge historical figure is completely different to anything you would expect. “On the one hand you have Shakespeare singing Backstreet Boys, but there’s also lots of details and references for Shakespeare purists”.
Director Luke Sheppard also commented that Shakespeare was considered popular culture during the time he was alive. By merging his work with pop music of today, ‘& Juliet’ is essentially bringing Shakespeare 'back to its roots in populist culture'. Instead of simply preserving his work, they are having fun with it, and Sheppard believes if he were alive today “he’d be cheering us on.”
In the preview of performances and Q&A session at the launch event, it was clear that the cast are extremely talented, comical and full of energy. After being part of the original London cast of ‘Hamilton’, award-winning Miriam-Teak Lee will take on the role of ‘Juliet’. Her counterpart ‘Romeo’ will be played by Jordan Luke Gage, having previously performed in ‘Bat Out of Hell’. He expressed his enthusiasm for being part of an original musical, stating that it was ‘exploring from the ground up’ and ‘different to anything he’d done before'. Joining the former lovers are Oliver Tompsett (‘Charlie Price’ in ‘Kinky Boots’ and ‘Drew Boley’ in ‘Rock of Ages’) as ‘Shakespeare’ and Cassidy Janson (‘Carole King’ in ‘Beautiful’) as ‘Anne Hathaway’.
The four leads described how behind set, everyone gels and the cast of 26 are all supportive and fun to work with. They also professed their love for being part of Martin’s creations, having grown up listening to his songs and now able to "pay homage to him" (Lee). Having heard the impressive vocals of all four at the event, we know ‘& Juliet’ will be a fantastic tribute to the legendary songwriter.
The play’s music and lyrics are a reflection of Max Martin’s career. They are brought to life by a book by playwright David West Read and direction from Luke Sheppard. Sheppard confessed that as soon as he read the first email about the show from Read, he knew he wanted to be involved. “I knew in a heartbeat it was going to be something special. Not only does it offer the chance to work with one of the most celebrated music catalogues in popular modern music history, but the script had such a clear sense of ambition, identity and integrity that I felt it was something I had to be a part of.”
But with colossal musical numbers and the rearrangement of award-winning Bill Sherman, choreography is ever more important. ‘& Juliet’s’ choreographer, Jennifer Weber, stated that working on the play was ‘a dream’. She describes Martin’s music as the ultimate dance music and the routines in ‘& Juliet’ are ‘explosive, emotional and powerful’. She further stated that it was "the most dancing you will see ever in a musical".
Beyond the music, the book also required strong creativity in set design (Soutra Gilmour) and costumes (Paloma Young) to bring the historic literary characters to life. Sheppard said that everything was still being fine tuned and explored as workshop rehearsals are taking place, but that Shakespeare informs all elements of the show. He described the creatives as an ‘amalgamation of periods’ that make Shakespeare current and fresh. Howard Hudson and Gareth Owen also complete the team as Lighting Designer and Sound Designer respectively.
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