The previews of &Juliet the musical, began October 28th 2022 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Broadway. &Juliet is originally coming to us from the West End, where it premiered in 2019.
The show is based on the book by David West Read where the main literary basis is the famous tragedy by William Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet. However! And this fact requires your attention: Juliet doesn’t die. At that, her beloved Romeo is dead. The action of the show starts at Romeo’s funeral, where the inconsolable Juliet finds out many new and unprejudiced things about her own beloved: she discovers that he had multiple girlfriends and might have even been bisexual? To clear her mind and cheer herself up, Juliet, with her two girlfriends, decides to travel to Paris, where the three share many adventures: they start and break off new relationships, Juliet attempts to get married again, her parents wish to send her to a convent… But Shakespeare, who appears as one of the characters of the musical and plays the role of a narrator, decides to add another twist to the plot: he resurrects Romeo, who shows up at Juliet’s engagement party and wants to ruin it. Suffering from self-contradiction, based on the fact, that Juliet is unsure whether she still loves and is ready to forgive Romeo or not, she continues her wedding day preparations with another groom. But what’s meant to be – will be, and Romeo and Juliet decide to start from scratch and go on a «first date».
Technically, the show is a typical Jukebox Musical, which consists of famous songs by Karl Martin Sandberg – Max Martin, written during the past thirty years. His songs were performed by the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Pink, Kesha, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and other pop stars. Out of over 30 musical numbers of the production only one is an original song, written specifically for the show – One More Try. Practically, all of the most recognizable hits got included into the music score of the musical, for example: Baby One More Time, Shape of My Heart, Oops!… I Did It Again, I Want It That Way, Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely, That’s the Way It Is. It is obvious, that the musical component of the show, due to the fact, that it’s highly recognizable, is the project’s strong side. Whereas the made-up story gives rise to various doubts, mainly that the storyline would not be equally as successful as the music.
If we look into the history of this genre of musical theater, we can establish that the two most successful shows with a made-up story line, based on the overall duration of the run of the shows and the number of spectators that visited them, are first and foremost – the two musicals, coming originally from the West End – Mamma Mia! (1999-2021) and the rock opera We Will Rock You (2002-2022). The book of the musical Mamma Mia! was written by Catherine Johnson, who chose about two dozen hits by the legendary Swedish band ABBA for her story about a young girl – Sophie, who is dreaming of finding her father so that he could walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. She doesn’t know who her father is, but guesses that he is one of the three men, that dated her mother way back when. The musical Mamma Mia! has been translated into more than ten languages, the show played in over a hundred cities around the world and approximately twenty-five million spectators saw it.
The rock-opera We Will Rock You, based on the songs by Queen and named after one of their most famous hits, was written by the British dramatist Ben Elton, in collaboration with the original members of the band – Brian May and Roger Taylor. Translated into many languages, the show toured six continents. The number of spectators that experienced the show throughout the twenty years of its stage life is at thirty-four million people(unofficially). The action takes place in the future, where society is de-personified, and music is produced by the mega-computers under the Global Soft corporation at power. The protest spirits of the youth are after one simple goal – they want to bring «live» music back. The spectacle, filled with adventures, results in the good old-fashioned victory of Good over Evil. The human feelings and unique individuality of each character regain their rights. In this musical, we clearly see the reflection of the key unresolved issues of modern society, which will come through even stronger in the Jukebox musical American Idiot (2010), later on.
If in the cult rock-opera We Will Rock You, music, human feelings and personal individualities were lost, then in the rock musical American Idiot, we experience the threat of losing the Reason and Mind. At that, in the actions and thoughts of the main characters there is no protest as such, no ideas as to how to change things and what needs to be changed. Only the musical genre of the show – hard rock and pop-rock, establishes the negative attitude of the youth toward the ideology and culture, which is being forced upon them by means of social media, books, comic books, movies, which gives birth to the «syndrome of the lost and confused» and the understanding that their life if going NOWHERE. This jukebox musical, with the help of its “loud” means of expression, tried to scream: “Americans, wake up! You are turning into idiots, you’re being brainwashed. Something needs to be done!”
In 2018, the jukebox musical Jagged Little Pill with new force focuses on the issues, that worry our contemporaries: drug addiction, sexual assault, gender identity, racial affiliation. The critics gave the show its due in regards to its relevance, calling it «woke,»Barone, J. Has Alanis Morissette Made the Most Woke Musical Since ‘Hair’? /The New York Times. May 16, 2018. ISSN 0362-4331 just like the musical Hair Hair (1967) –a psychedelic musical about the hippie movement of the 1960s – music by Galt MacDermot, lyrics by Gerome Ragni/ James Rado. back in the 1960s. The production opened on Broadway in 2019, however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic it was put on hold, and unfortunately, never returned to Broadway since.
The apparent tendency of the jukebox musical development of the last couple of years confirms the readiness of the creators to turn to the erogenous zones of society as a response to the existing demand. The music and songs, known to millions of people, heighten the level of faith in whatever is being presented on stage.
In the musical &Juliet, the main characters of the tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” are transported in time and act in different given circumstances than in the original play by William Shakespeare. At that, Will himself is actively involved in the story. He naughtily experiments with his own characters and wonders: “And what if she didn’t die? Then what?”. The “what if” approach – is not uncommon for plays with an open ending. Often the various options for the finale become independent literary finds.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” the ending is established: the final scenes resolve the development of the conflicts. The death of the main characters is natural, the dramatic action throughout the play prepares us for it. The final scene of Juliet’s death contrasts with an earlier scene, where she was about to drink the sleeping potion, but got scared. To gain some courage, she thinks of Romeo and addresses him, saying that she takes the potion for him, wanting to follow him wherever he is, in another world. In the end, Juliet determines, she doesn’t fear death anymore, but fears a life without Romeo by her side instead. The main heroes die, becoming victims to their own love. Obviously, this attempt at a remake-sequel by the creators of &Juliet should be perceived as a farce. If that was not the initial idea, and the author of the book just wanted to come up with a fun story, then the attempts to build the issue of the youthful immature sexual relationships, gender issues, and parental issues – are out of place. One cannot dress the seafood salad with strawberry ice cream… And…what if? It will not taste good. However, I’m sure there are some epicures out there who will passionately state that such an endeavor is a culinary masterpiece… What if Juliet didn’t die? There would be no tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” written by William Shakespeare. And there is no other answer to that question.
But, nonetheless, &Juliet – is a jukebox musical. Its main goal – is to create a “picture come to life” of the musical story. And the songs by Max Martin – the legend of the pop-music industry of the XIX-XX centuries – will once again be performed for the grateful spectators, reminding them of the creator and multiple singers that made those songs known and popular. And a vibrant, dynamic show, with many dance numbers choreographed by Jennifer Weber against the backdrop of a memorable cool set, bathed in futuristic lighting, will keep people on their toes, engaged and excited.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.