Thursday, November 24, 2022

Review of "& Juliet"

What would happen if Juliet (of Romeo & Juliet fame) didn’t take her own life at the end of Shakespeare’s classic play but, instead, resolved to see the world and live life to the fullest?  That’s the general plot of the exuberant new jukebox musical, & Juliet.  The show takes its songs from the portfolio of songwriter/producer Max Martin who, over the years, has crafted more number one hits on the Billboard charts than anyone in history.  The score includes such million sellers as “Baby One More Time” (Britney Spears), “Roar” (Katy Perry), “As Long as You Love Me” (Backstreet Boys), “Since You Been Gone” (Kelly Clarkson) and dozens more.  The selected songs fit perfectly within the story, helping to clarify the plot and illustrate the characters.

The book by David West Read, an Emmy Award winning writer for TV’s Schitt’s Creek, is consistently funny, inventive and, with the skillful direction of Luke Sheppard, keeps the pacing brisk and entertaining.  The librettist, while keeping the tone light and daff, is able to riff on same sex relationships, commitment and personal self-discovery.

Lorna Courtney delivers a star-making performance as the intrepid heroine.  Her Juliet, bathed in female empowerment, is an amalgam of emotions - self-assured, anxious, and wishful.

The musical begins with Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, bemoaning the downer ending of his new work-in-progress, Romeo & Juliet.  She proposes a more ambiguous conclusion of letting Juliet live on to explore the world and seek enlightenment.  The Bard reluctantly agrees and so the star-crossed lover heads to Paris with her best friend, May, and nurse in waiting.  In the City of Lights, the threesome find new loves and contentment.  There are amusing twists cheekily inserted into the plot that keeps the action lively.  Shakespeare and his wife are part of the action, but also jump out of the story as they constantly produce rewrites.  The married couple’s interactions, the only “serious” moments of the show, provide a parallel to the journey of fulfillment and dedication the other characters seek.  In the end, surprise, surprise, happiness abounds with one unexpected curveball from Juliet thrown in for good measure.

The cast is superb, led by Lorna Courtney as Juliet. She is resolute with a frisky, playful presence as well as an endearing vulnerability.  The actress has a powerful belting voice and is one helluva dancer.

Stark Sands (Shakespeare) and Betsy Wolfe (Anne Hathaway) display great chemistry and merrymaking.  Their lighthearted sparring, witty quips and bon mots are a source of continuous comedic pleasures.  Justin David Sullivan makes a splashy Broadway debut as Juliet’s best pal, May.  The performer adds heart and soul to the production.  Ben Jackson Walker gives Romeo a beguiling swagger and sensitivity that creates a fully realized character.  Other notable cast members are Paulo Szot as the stern, but compassionate Lance; Philippe Arroyo as Lance’s diffident son Francois; and Melanie La Barrie as the doting nurse, Angelique.

Jennifer Weber’s choreography is wildly energetic and highly charged.  The dance moves blend effortlessly and distinctively within the pop songs of the score.

The other creative elements that go into constructing a large-scale Broadway musical are marvelously in sync.  They include Soutra Gilmour’s flashy and glittering Scenic Design; the trendy, Renaissance chic costumes designed by Paloma Young; Howard Hudson’s dazzling Lighting Design; and Andrzej Goulding’s pictorially tinged Video & Projections.  All mesh so well together, creating a sparkling stage production.

& Juliet, an electrifying and delicious jukebox musical confection.

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