& Juliet is entirely too much, in the best kind of way.
It was not so long ago that Melbourne enjoyed the sensational Six the Musical, with its changed ‘herstory’ and strong message of female empowerment. & Juliet bears similarities, with its catchy score and a reimagined story for Shakespeare’s heroine and wife. Fans of one will definitely enjoy the other, owing to a renaissance in contemporary, poptastic musicals that don’t take themselves too seriously.
Photo: Jake Nowakowski
David West Read’s book is witty and well-paced, cleverly setting a conflict in Shakespeare (Rob Mills) and Anne Hathaway’s (Amy Lehpamer) marriage against the couple’s reimagined ending for Romeo and Juliet.
A smorgasbord of stylistic and storytelling choices, from Elizabethan to present-day, are readily accepted by the audience thanks to many Elizabethan theatre conventions such as asides and play-within-a-play. Shakespeare fans will enjoy many nods to his work, and the uninitiated will benefit from the speedy synopsis of the source material. A wide catalogue of Max Martin (and friends) hits ranging from Bon Jovi to Demi Lovato will be recognisable to most theatregoers.
Gareth Owen and Matt Peploe provide some of the best sound I’ve heard at the Regent Theatre. Given the sheer volume of the concert-style numbers, coupled with flies and pyro, you truly heard everything in perfect balance. An exceptional band (led by Michael Azzopardi) is so tight that they needed to come out at the curtain call to prove they weren’t a backing track.
Paloma Young’s haute couture costumes are drawn from a multitude of influences and, along with Soutra Gilmour’s delightfully excessive settings, are every glittery colour of the rainbow. Projection (Andrezej Goudling) is the cherry on top.
The creatives have assembled a wonderful cast, many of whom are making their professional musical theatre debuts.
As the titular character, Lorinda May Merrypor is a star on the rise, telling Juliet’s bildungsroman with ease. Her charisma ensures charming scenes against her co-stars. As Romeo, Blake Appelqvist gets a memorable entrance which they milk for all its worth. You cannot take your eyes off Appelqvist due to their incredible vocals and all round star power.
Photo: Daniel Boud
Rob Mills’ Shakespeare is a little shaky on the accent, but is otherwise charming and most at home in Act Two’s ‘boy band’. Hayden Tee is absolutely hilarious and in fine voice as Lance. Amy Lehpamer’s Anne is well-drawn, doing a lot of the heavy lifting and offering great vocals in both storylines.
Yashith Fernando makes a brilliant debut as Francois. With a voice that would melt butter, and an endearing stage presence, he will be one to look out for in the future. Jesse Dutlow’s May is a fitting match, particularly in scene work.
At this preview performance, the absolute standout in a cast of standouts was Sarah Murr as Angélique, who is second cover for the role. Murr revealed herself as a master comedian with a killer voice who will no doubt be in demand from here on in.
No doubt the Bard himself would chuckle at this multicolor rollercoaster ride. Check it out!
& Juliet is now playing at the Regent Theatre, Melbourne. Buy tickets here.