Interview: How Bill Sherman Is Bringing Britney Spears, Katy Perry & More to Broadway in & JULIET

& Juliet officially opens on Broadway tonight at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre! 

By: Nov. 17, 2022
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Interview: How Bill Sherman Is Bringing Britney Spears, Katy Perry & More to Broadway in & JULIET

Tony, Grammy and Daytime Emmy-Award Bill Sherman is the music supervisor, arranger and orchestrator on & Juliet, opening on Broadway tonight, November 17th at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre!

& Juliet features some of the the biggest pop songs of the last 30 years, all written by Max Martin and his collaborators, including "Since U Been Gone," "Roar," "...Baby One More Time," "Larger Than Life," "That's The Way It Is," "Can't Stop the Feeling," and many more.

Featuring Lorna Courtney as 'Juliet,' Tony Award-winner Paulo Szot as 'Lance,' Betsy Wolfe as 'Anne Hathaway,' Tony Award nominee Stark Sands as 'Shakespeare,' Justin David Sullivan as 'May,' Melanie La Barrie as 'Nurse,' Ben Jackson Walker as 'Romeo,' and Philippe Arroyo as 'Francois,' & Juliet imagines what would happen next if Juliet hadn't ended it all over Romeo, and got a second chance at life and love.

BroadwayWorld spoke with Bill Sherman about taking some of the biggest songs of all time and shaping them for the Broadway stage!

You are the music supervisor, arranger and orchestrator for & Juliet. How did this project come to you, and what were your first thoughts when you heard about it?

I got a call from my agent, and David West Read, the book writer for & Juliet, we have the same agent. My agent said, "Hey, do you know who Max Martin is?" And I said, "Yes, I write music for a living, I know who Max Martin is." And he goes, "Well, do you want to work on the Max Martin musical?" And I was like, "That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard, absolutely, yes, I want to work on it!"

So they flew me out to Los Angeles, and I met with Max, and his wife, and the team of producers, and it was a super interesting meeting. We hung out and got to know each other, and they called the next day and were like, "Hey, we want you to work on this project." And I was like, "This is bizarre, great, let's do it." And so, I got into a room with David, we hashed out some songs, what kind of medleys we could do, how these songs could co-exist together, and how we could use them to tell a story. That was eight years ago.

Then we did a couple of readings to understand what it was, and then we hired our director Luke Sheppard, and he came aboard and started to give everything a shape. That was the initial process. What is the phone call that goes, "Hey, Bill, do you want to work on a musical with the best 25 to 30 songs of the past 25 years?" Of course you say yes, you can't really say no to that! So here I am, and I've taken apart the greatest pop songs of the past 30 years and moved all the parts around and pushed them back together into something that I hope people will like!

Can you tell me about your process of taking the most well-known pop songs in history and tailoring them for the stage? How did you approach it?

& JulietThe first goal is always 'how do you best tell the story with the material that you have?' One of the best moments about that is ...Baby One More Time is taking a pop song and turning it into a big ballad for the ingenue, for Juliet. But the cool part about it, when Max and I first met, he said, "Look, if the song is in the show and it wants to sound like the original, make it sound like the original, but your version of it. And if it wants to sound totally different, then go all the way there."

One of the great parts of the show is when someone hears a song that they know, but hears it in a different context, or different genre, or a different tempo, or a different mood than they usually associate the song with, and they laugh to themselves like they can't believe this magic trick that we've pulled off, which I love. I think those are the greatest moments in & Juliet, that kind of stuff. But with any of them, it was like, "What serves the story best?" and "Can we pull that off?" Musically speaking, Max's songs are so earworm-y and so fantastic that you can dress them up in so many ways, they're still these wonderful songs. So, in that sense it was pretty easy [laughs]. It's a lot of really good material, a lot of puzzle pieces to build a puzzle with.

What was your approach in deciding when to keep some of these songs true to how we know them and have heard them, versus departing totally from what we're used to? For instance, Larger Than Life sounds like as we know it, but ...Baby One More Time does not.

It's always about how it serves the story. So, it just worked that ...Baby One More Time was a ballad, it just worked that Since U Been Gone slams like the anthem that it is, and that Problem, and Can't Feel My Face, if you smush them together they do work really well together! It's sort of like you don't know until you try, and then you try and they wind up working well! I think some of the other songs like Oops!... I Did It Again, you sort of have this idea of what that song means. Another thing that we do really well in the show that blows people's minds, is how we take the songs and put them into a different context.

So, for example, I Want It That Way is a love song between two people about how they want to approach certain things in their life. In our show, it's an argument between Shakespeare and his wife, he wants something one way and she want something a different way, and I think that's really smart too. It's the second song in the show and people are like, "Oh, I get it, that's what you're going to do, that's the magic trick you guys are going to pull." It's super original, David West Read's ability to wind this crazy story, and really make it funny, and important. And at the same time it's really a magic feat, for sure.

What was the process of deciding who sang what song, is it a solo moment or an ensemble number, when to change the key and when to leave it?

That was mostly David's doing. I think in the beginning Max gave us carte blanche to 50& Juliet songs in his catalog or something like that. David wrote an initial script, and I definitely think he backed himself into a bunch of jokes that he sort of had to set up after he knew what the joke was going to be. There's a number of them that are really quite funny. And then song-wise it was kind of like, "This song works here." But then, pop music by nature is a little repetitive, at least lyrically, so a lot of the choruses are repetitive, and as we know in music theatre, every lyric counts. So, we cut a lot, and moved stuff around so that in whatever way, we were always telling a story lyrically and musically so that we didn't get caught up in a repetitive chorus. I don't know that we ever do a full song in this show, which I think is kind of cool, it's like this collage of Max Martin as opposed to a concert.

The way that we turned this into a score is what I call taking the sounds of the Shakespearean times, so strings and things like that, and mushing them with pop music. And the way that we did it, is that the strings are the thing that separates Max Martin pop music from the show. In that, there is a glue that keeps it all in one sonic palate, so that no matter where we are, it's always some sort of consistency. It's very theatrical, and very orchestral, and I think that that's a very fun thing to lend to some of these songs to give them sonically more of a push.

Most of Max Martin's hits are in this show, but he has so many. How was it decided what songs would actually make it into the show?

It was hard. Originally there were a bunch of songs that we had to cut. As musicals go, you get closer and closer to the end, and you're cutting songs. When you're making a musical, you're cutting songs that you've written, but when we were cutting songs it was like one of the best songs of the past 20 years and we're cutting it, it's this really bizarre embarrassment of riches. But, it was always the thing that told the best story. At times we were cutting some amazing boyband song and you be like, "Look, we have a lot of great songs here, we have to find the best ones to make the best possible musical." We would try them all, and whatever ones really worked for the story were the ones we wound up keeping.

What songs didn't make the cut?

We had a duet between Shakespeare and Romeo that we loved, it was a Pink song called I Don't Believe You, but it just didn't work for the story, so we cut it. There was one other boyband song, there were a couple that didn't make it.

What is your favorite Max Martin song, and what is your favorite number in the show? That might not be the same answer!

Oh man, there are so many good ones, it's hard to say. I think people around my age, somewhere between 30 and 50, Max Martin songs really hit you at a certain time in your life when you're growing up, and the Britney Spears of it all, and the boyband of it all, and it's just so funny that it was all written by the same guy. My favorite one in the show is Problem/Can't Feel My Face, it's such a great number. And our choreographer Jennifer Weber makes this incredible number, it's really fun to watch. It's a heck of number.

What are you most excited for with the Broadway premiere of & Juliet?

& JulietPeople come see the show and they can't help but smile and enjoy themselves, and to me, that's something that we all need these days. And that to me is what we're trying to do. Hear the message and really enjoy it, and leave with a smile and have some joy, because I think there is a little bit of joy lacking in the world sometimes. So to be able to create something that provides that is really great.