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Meet the new rising star of the stage using “self-affirmations” to play Juliet

Meet Gerardine Sacdalan: the young woman who is living her 'Teenage Dream' on stage in & Juliet which returns to the place where it all began, Manchester

The hit West End musical which began life in Manchester – & Juliet returns to Manchester this month, and we caught up with leading lady, Gerardine Sacdalan who plays the title character, to see how rehearsals are going and find out what’s in store for the audience on opening night.

This is the first UK tour for this tale of what would happen if the star-crossed lovers did not end in tragedy. Romeo and Juliet are back, alright!

While the show also features big names like X Factor winner, Matt Cardle and TV’s Dr Ranj Singh, this is Gerardine’s first big show since graduating drama school just last month. While we’re sure she’s going to be a success, Gerardine says as the opening night gets closer, the nerves are kicking in. “It’s a massive honour and privilege, but also a lot of pressure. I feel like going into such a big role straight out of drama school is a joy, obviously, but it’s a lot of self-doubt. The team we have here are so reassuring, so it’s very minimal.” To cope with the pressure, she says she’s a big fan of self-affirmations and trusts in the belief that she wouldn’t have been picked for the job if she couldn’t do it.

Matt Cardle is the famous playwright, Shakespeare, in this version of events telling the tale of what happens after the classic Romeo and Juliet. Matt’s career began back in 2010 when he won his season of the X Factor, the same year One Direction made their debut. Gerardine admits to “fangirling” when the cast announcement was made, as Matt had sung with pop sensation Rihanna. She said that one of the first things she asked her co-star was “What does she smell like” and she smells like cocoa butter, of course, she does!

Gerardine Sacdalan rehearsing for Juliet
Gerardine Sacdalan rehearsing for & Juliet

The show, & Juliet, is a modern jukebox musical featuring songs from pop icons like Katy Perry, Ariana Grande and Kelly Clarkson. Unlike a lot of musicals, none of the iconic songs have been changed and all fit seamlessly into the show. One of Gerardine’s favourites to perform is Kelly Clarkson’s, Since U Been Gone as it reminds her of being a teenager going through her first heartbreak and screaming that song in her bedroom – we’ve all been there! She says “It just makes me feel like a queen, it’s very iconic.”

The musical & Juliet follows Juliet immediately after her heartbreaking love affair with Romeo, as she goes on a journey of self-discovery. Gerardine describes her character as “a very sassy, very forward-thinking, strongly opinionated woman” who learns to navigate her life on her terms throughout the musical. The messages portrayed throughout the show aim to lift you and empower the audience. She says “The message, the lesson that you take away from this musical needs to be heard on a huge global scale, now more than ever. The message of love is love and you can be whoever you want to be, is such an important message to reach out to so many people.”

Manchester is the first stop on the tour and the performers are excited to show us what & Juliet is all about, but some are keen to see what our city has to offer on their days off. Gerardine, who plays Juliet said “Everyone raves about Manchester, everyone wants to live there” and who can blame them?

Cast photo during rehearsals for & Juliet

& Juliet comes to Manchester on the 8th – 20th of July, and tickets are on sale now.

First of all, the tour starts soon now. How have rehearsals gone so far?

We’re into our last few runs in the rehearsal studio this week, and I feel like this time during the rehearsal process is the most fun. It’s so great having the creative process of putting it all together and seeing the structure come together is so gorgeous. You get to see scenes you haven’t been in, it’s like a massive show and tell. Getting comfortable with it all. It’s such a fun show to be a part of.

Is this your first big tour or are you used to the lifestyle now?

No, this is my first big BIG job, I graduated drama school last month, so it’s a massive honour and privilege, but also a lot of pressure. I feel like going into such a big role straight out of drama school is a joy, obviously, but it’s a lot of self-doubt, but the team we have here are so reassuring, so it’s very minimal.

How are you dealing with that pressure?

I feel like it’s just a lot of self-affirmations, I love that type of stuff, and the belief that I wouldn’t have got it if I couldn’t do it.

Manchester is the first stop on the tour, have you been here before? If not, what are you looking forward to seeing or doing while you’re here?

I haven’t been to Manchester before but a lot of my cast have been and also live there! So they’ve recommended a lot of foodie places. I’m a massive foodie, I love to eat, which is a problem because most of my costumes are corsets! I’m just excited to experience different cities. I’ve been living in London for drama school and haven’t had the opportunity to go around the UK at all, but everyone raves about Manchester, everyone wants to live there! The drinks are cheap, and I think that’s going to be a big tick!

Can you give me a bit of background about the show, what’s the musical all about?

So & Juliet is the beginning of the end, it starts with William Shakespeare writing the original Romeo and Juliet, and then his wife, Anne Hathaway comes in a little bit tipsy, she’s had a few Aperol’s. You know what, why does Juliet have to die? She’s known this guy for less than a week, why does she have to sacrifice herself for him? And then it follows the journey of Juliet discovering her way through life. You know that self-discovery holiday, I went to Thailand last year trying to find myself in the depths of Thailand, it’s that sort of narrative where she learns so much along the way and acquires these friends who teach her lessons about herself. From the start, she’s already a very sassy, very forward thinking strongly opinionated woman, but she learns to navigate her life on her terms, throughout the musical.

Matt Cardle is on the tour with you, how is it working with an X Factor winner?

You would never be able to tell, he is one of the most humble people I have ever worked with, and I remember when the cast announcement came out I was fangirling, I can’t lie, I was like oh my god, he’s from the season One Direction was in, he had sung with Rihanna, it’s a lot, but he is a gorgeous gorgeous soul to work with and a gorgeous person to learn from, I think that’s one of the joys about this job is that there are so many beautiful professionals on this job who are seasoned and who have done their fair share that it’s a great process to be a part of to learn, especially straight after drama school. The first question I asked him was ‘What does she [Rihanna] smell like’ he was just like ‘She smells like cocoa butter’

What are your best bits and personal highlights in the show?

I feel like it’s really hard to pinpoint it into one, because of being biased. I have the best songs in the show, I get to sing Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, and Ariana Grande, it’s a whole pop star fantasy. I do love “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson, I just remember having that song playing after my first heartbreak when I was like 13, it’s just so much fun, and the choreography is so much fun as well. It just makes me feel like a queen, it’s very iconic.

I think, let’s be real, every girl has had a moment to that song, we’ve all been there!

Have all the songs been kept the same or rewritten?

So, what’s clever about this show is that the songs they’ve chosen by Max Martin all fit into the narrative, exactly how they are. None of the songs have been re-written at all, but unlike other jukebox musicals, the songs come into the musical at the right time and just enhance the story at that particular moment, I find it so interesting, the way they hit me, baby, one more time into one of the most dramatic parts of the show is so fantastic and so clever because it just works, if you were to break down how it works, you just couldn’t. “There’s almost no explanation of how or why it works, it just does.”

What’s your favourite scene to perform?

There’s a bit right at the very end, and it’s the only scene in the show that I and Shakespeare have together, throughout the whole musical, and he tells me to shut up, and I’m telling him no, you shut up. And that’s fantastic, I think the simplicity of that scene is so gorgeous and empowering that I just love it every single time.

Any last shout-outs or things you want to mention?

I applaud the producers of the show a lot. I think they’ve made the biggest effort to make this show the most accessible to everyone across the country. The message, the lesson that you take away from this musical needs to be heard on a huge global scale, now more than ever. The message of love is love and you can be who you wanna be, is such an important message to reach out to so many people. I think the effort they’ve gone through to make sure & Juliet goes to as many venues as possible is fantastic, and the ticket prices are great too!

& Juliet is at Manchester’s Opera House from 8-20 July 2024 and you can book tickets here

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