What would happen if you could rewrite the ending of one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies – the doomed romance of Romeo & Juliet?
That’s the premise of the spectacular new musical & Juliet which has been previewing at Manchester’s Opera House for the past three weeks ahead of a big stage transfer to the West End next month.
It’s a witty, whimsical and rather wild take on the classic story of star-crossed lovers, played out by having William Shakespeare (a heroic Oliver Tompsett) and his wife Anne Hathaway (Cassidy Janson in fine voice) arguing over the tragic ending of the Bard’s masterpiece.
Anne wants to see what happens if Juliet didn’t actually kill herself like her prone Romeo – and so begins the character’s journey of female empowerment in a classic play-within-a-play structure.
Throw in some of the biggest pop hits of the past decade, courtesy of Swedish producer and all-round music machine Max Martin, a truly spectacular stage production, and you have a very modern musical masterpiece on your hands.
The audience get to tap their feet along to chart-topping favourites from Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and Katy Perry amongst others, brought to life in a very innovative way throughout the show, rather than a simple jukebox musical format.
But at the heart of it all is an utter powerhouse performance from Miriam-Teak Lee as Juliet – nurturing the character on her journey from tragic teen widow to empowered young woman who realises she doesn’t need a grand romance to make her happy.
She is utterly entrancing on stage, bringing sass and class with every arched eyebrow, jutted hip and bouncing dance move and cut-glass vocals that bring new energy to the big pop hits.
She is joined on her voyage of discovery to Paris by her best friends May (Arun Blair-Mangat) and Anne (who can’t resist casting herself a place in all the action). Cleverly, there are all the Shakespearean twists and turns you’d expect, but all done in a very 21st century way, particularly with the star-crossed love triangle between Juliet, May and Francois (Tim Mahendran).
And when Romeo (a brilliantly brash Jordan Luke Gage) returns from the dead, there’s even more confusion, comedy and utterly memorable musical moments – particularly when Juliet, growing in confidence, belts out Kelly Clarkson classic Since U Been Gone to her errant lover – on into a truly exhilarating hip hop dance off to Ariana Grande’s Problem.
As with most jukebox musicals, there are occasional jarring moments when those already-written songs are shoe-horned into the action, but overall the music melds perfectly with the pulsating action of the show – never more so than at the truly dazzling finale when Juliet comes over all diva to belt out Katy Perry’s Roar.
On press night here in Manchester this week, three weeks after the previews began, the audience is packed with whooping and cheering fans, many of them already apparent & Juliet converts. Some are even dressed up for the occasion in the quasi-Elizabethan/hip-hop fashions that are so brilliantly fashioned on stage.
Manchester really, really gets this show – so don’t miss the chance to see it here first before the whole nation is talking about it.
& Juliet is at Manchester Opera House until October 12