Review: & Juliet

by Lynn on July 9, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Until August 14, 2022.

Music and lyrics by Max Martin and friends

Book by David West Read

Directed by Luke Sheppard

Choreographed by Jennifer Weber

Music supervisor, orchestrations and arrangements, Bill Sherman

Scenic design by Soutra Gilmour

Costume designer, Paloma Young

Lighting by Howard Hudson

Sound by Gareth Owen

Video Designer, Andrzej Goulding

What if Juliet didn’t die with Romeo. & Juliet is an explosion of creativity that will leave you giddy with joy and breathless.

The Story. & Juliet asks the question: “What would happen if Juliet didn’t commit suicide when she awoke and found Romeo dead beside her? What if she lived to find her own way in the world?” What if she looked at this as an opportunity get away from her hideous parents and go and make a life for herself? This of course would mean that people were messing with Shakespeare’s play and in this case it’s Mrs. Shakespeare, Anne Hathaway.

Mrs. Shakespeare is feeling forgotten living in Stratford-upon-Avon, taking care of the kids,  while her celebrated husband, William Shakespeare, is away in London writing plays and being celebrated. She tells him she can improve on the play Romeo and Juliet by having Juliet live and go on her own adventures.

And so we follow Juliet to Paris (the city, not the guy her parents want her to marry). She goes with her nurse and her best friend May. She meets and kisses a young man name François whose father insists that he get married. Well, this seems like a perfect meeting, Except there are all sorts of complications, characters keep coming in to make trouble. Shakespeare is one of them. Anne Hathaway holds her own.

The Production. & Juliet is a heart-thumping, loud, raucous, brilliant musical. Writer David West Read (who earned an Emmy Award for writing Schitt’s Creek), has come up with the idea. I call it brilliant because David West Read has such a comedic gift, mixing Shakespeare, puns, lines from other Shakespeare plays and ramping up the stakes in each complication.

He also reflects the world we live in: gender fluidity; being true to oneself; loving the person you want to, not the person you are told you have to love, and there is nothing inevitable in relationships, not even if Shakespeare is involved.

The music and lyrics are by Max Martin and friends and while it is generally called a jukebox musical, where existing songs are used to forward the story, it’s done with such cleverness and wit that it will keep you shaking your head at the smartness of it all. Every single song is perfectly placed in this musical and adds a tweak to the moment.

“I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Women by Britney Spears is sung by May (a moving Justin David Sullivan) and gives it such a stunning, revelatory, poignant twist. Juliet (Lorna Courtney) sings “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor that is a battle cry of a woman coming into her own. Lorna Courtney as Juliet is a powerhouse. She a strong singer, a wonderful dancer and an actress with such grace and subtlety.

Stark Sands plays Shakespeare with boyish swagger as one would expect of this character, and sings beautifully. Betsy Wolfe as Anne Hathaway is fearless as a woman also coming into her own. As the Nurse Melanie La Barrie is not only delicious comic relief, she is also wise, wily and magically finds her own happiness when she least expected it. Paulo Szot as Lance is a revelation of humour, irreverence and unexpected macho comedy in leather pants and a codpiece. And of course, this trained opera singer sings like a dream.  

It’s directed with such imagination and wit by Luke Sheppard who keeps the action moving but always in focus. Soutra Gilmour’s set is properly eye-popping for those needing dazzle in their musicals. Jennifer Weber has choreographed this with breathless creativity and explosive energy.

& Juliet will leave you smiling and elated at the end, and you will have new respect for Shakespeare, but especially Anne Hathaway. Alas Juliet’s parents are still hideous.

Comment. & Juliet has played for two years in London’s West End and will open on Broadway in October. It has all the dazzle and pizzazz many need in their Broadway musicals. But it has wit, heart, imagination and thought that will take you deeper into the story and reflects our complex, changing world. Brilliant.

David Mirvish Presents:

Plays until: August 14, 2022

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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