Review: & JULIET at Crown Theater

Modern soundtrack complements new age re-do of Shakespeare classic

By: Jan. 08, 2024
Review: & JULIET at Crown Theater
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The new year is often a time for looking back, and with & JULIET coming to Perth, we’re looking back some 500 years to reimagine the classic Shakespeare play Romeo & Juliet. As the title suggests, & JULIET explores what would happen if Juliet had not been dragged to the play’s tragic ending and instead decided to pursue her own life and love. What ensues is a hilarious and heartwarming journey where each character finds out a little about themselves, all set to the soundtrack of some of the biggest hits from the last twenty-five years. You’ll laugh, cry, and dance as William Shakespeare rewrites one of his classics on the fly. 

Whether or not you’ve heard of Max Martin, you’ve nearly certainly heard at least one of his songs, with the Swedish songwriter/producer being responsible for a string of major hit songs from the mid-90s to now. The songs he wrote and produced (performed by a variety of artists), provide the soundtrack to & JULIET, bringing the audience on a journey through over 20 years of hits through the show. The songs themselves match the scenes perfectly, with the context of some songs altered to suit whilst in some cases the lyrics have been tweaked to suit the musical. The result is a joyful romp through guilty pleasures, 90s boy band nostalgia, and some contemporary hits, with big dance numbers and a variety of excellent vocals to suit. The songs brought sighs and laughs form the audience, as well as plenty of mouthing (and sometimes full singing) along.

 

Review: & JULIET at Crown Theater

In the title role of Juliet is Lorinda May Merrypor. Despite a limited list of credits to date, Merrypor is an absolute natural as a leading lady, and with many of the shows big musical numbers and dance pieces (not to mention a large share of the jokes) she demonstrates all the attributes of a genuine star in the making. As the troublemaker of the show whose ideas inspire the breakaway from the known story is Amy Lehpamer. Lehpamer plays Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway, and she truly shines in this. Driving much of the plot, Lehpamer also pushes many of the key messages in the show, refusing to be in awe of her husband and instead insisting that the women in the show (and indeed in history) are at the fore. Amy Lehpamer is a big presence on stage, ensuring that if you didn’t know who Anne Hathaway was before seeing the show, you are in no doubt afterwards. 

 

For opening night, the role of William Shakespeare was played by Sean Sinclair. The part (as you can imagine) gets a lot of the jokes and a good portion of the big song moments, and Sinclair absolutely hit them out of the park. As Angelique was Sarah Murr who, as one of Juliet's close friends, guides the characters with wit and wisdom, which Murr provided in spades, not to mention a hefty dose of laughs. It's worth noting that Sinclair and Murr were covering for Rob Mills and Casey Donovan respectively who were both otherwise occupied on opening night. Whilst Mills and Donovan bring plenty to any part they play as a matter of course, it was an absolute treat to see their understudies, and it's safe to say that the cast has learnt plenty from the experienced cast members.

 

Review: & JULIET at Crown Theater
Jesse Dutlow as May and Yashith Fernando 
as Francois.

& JULIET is groundbreaking for many reasons, one of which is featuring a non-binary character in a major role. Jesse Dutlow plays May, whose own plot line is a major part of the story. May and Juliet's shared love interest Francois is played by Yashith Fernando, whose youthfulness suits the role, but who also brings confidence and ability beyond their looks. Many were blown away when Fernando started singing, not expecting such power and poise from a young character. As Lance (Francois' father and Angelique's love interest) is Hayden Tee. The character is often in contrast to the rest of the characters with many absurd and almost slap-stick moments, however Tee's experience ensures that the balance is never out, lighting up the stage whenever they appear. Romeo is played by Blake Appelqvist, and whilst Romeo is pushed to a somewhat minor part in this reimagining, Appelqvist does an outstanding job of making the character likeable at times but loathsome at others as needed for the storyline.

Speaking of storyline, & JULIET has been criticised in the past for lacking on this point, and whilst development of the plot is somewhat thin and some prior knowledge of Romeo & Juliet (and the broader works of Shakespeare) is useful, the show is still entertaining and joyous. With so many of the songs familiar to many and plenty of opportunities to sing along, as well as plenty of opportunities for the performers to flex their skills as triple threats, & JULIET is a chance to enjoy yourself at the theater. It's also so good to see more and more theater showing genuine diversity, with genuine diversity in performers. & JULIET goes one further by celebrating the diversity of the cast, but making diversity a part of each character, not making the characters all about their diversity. May it never again be suggested that it's hard to get diversity in casting, because & JULIET proves that the talent is there.

Review: & JULIET at Crown Theater

All in all, & JULIET is a modern and refreshing musical that flips the script on classic stories and brings it into the new age, with the main character and storyline following the female lead, and the main sub-plot being centred on a non-binary character. Big, well known songs underpin the entire show, and plenty of jokes delivers skillfully to keep the laughs going and the energy up. If you love kicking back and hitting play on your guilty pleasures playlist, then & JULIET is for you.

& JULIET is showing at Crown Theater until February 8th. Tickets and more information from & JULIET Australia.

Pictures thanks to Daniel Boud.




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