Theatre Review: & Juliet (Regent Theatre, Melbourne) ★★★★1/2

Song-writer Max Martin’s extensive back catalogue has been cherry-picked to create the crowd-pleasing musical & Juliet, with productions currently running on Broadway and in Melbourne, Australia, after debuting in London in 2019.

William Shakespeare (Rob Mills) is about to debut his new play, Romeo & Juliet, but when his wife, Anne Hathaway (Amy Lehpalmer) has notes on the story and decides to make a few changes, young Juliet (Lorinda May Merrypor) gets a new lease on life. It becomes a war of words as the couple fight over the narrative, meanwhile the characters they’ve created start to push the boundaries all on their own. Along the way they belt out songs made popular by the likes of Adam Lambert, Celine Dion, The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, P!nk, Bon Jovi, The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, and *NSYNC. The list is almost never ending.

Lorinda May Merrypor in & Juliet. Photo credit: Daniel Boud.

The tunes get all the attention in & Juliet, but its masterstroke comes from the brilliant book by David West Read. Read manages to use Martin’s lyrics in new, unexpected ways, and sets up joke after joke so smoothly you don’t see them coming. The pay offs for some of the long-set-up gags bring the house down. Where most jukebox musicals collapse under their uninspired scene work, &Juliet soars as it roars.

It’s been quite a while since I first saw & Juliet in London so I was thrilled to see the new production in Melbourne that feels more relaxed and organic on stage. Juliet’s story is one of self-determination and learning to move past your mistakes and Merrypor gives off strong “girl next door” vibes, and feels like she walked off the set of Netflix’s Heartbreak High. Romeo (played by non-binary performer Blake Appelqvist) is serving peak himbo-fuckboy, in an oddly charming way. But the real stand out for me was Lehpalmer as Anne Hathaway. She managed to cut through the silliness to the emotional core and delivered a note-perfect performance, both in song and character.

Rob Mills, Lorinda May Merrypor, Amy Lehpalmer, Casey Donovan and Jesse Dutlow in & Juliet. Photo credit; Daniel Boud.

The biggest change I felt dealt with the character of May (Jesse Dutlow), Juliet’s best friend. When Hathway writes May (who sings the Britney Spears tune “Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”) into the story to give Juliet a friend her own age, Shakespeare questions having a character of indeterminate gender. Hathway slaps him down quickly, both for the hypocrisy (how many Shakespearean storylines included fluid genders), and for the simple fact that May’s gender is their own to disclose as they see fit and not for him (or the audience) to make assumptions about. It feels like todays audiences understand the nuances and expansiveness of gender better than they did even four years ago, and wholeheartedly embraced this aspect of the show.

Lorinda May Merrypor and Ensemble in & Juliet. Photo credit: Daniel Boud.

& Juliet has always been a superior jukebox musical, and this production brings it down from its pedestal and fills it with real humanity. The tunes are bangers, the vocals are outrageously good and the message is still incredibly timely. It’s like going to your favourite gay bar and they’re playing all your favourite pop tunes while your mates are kikiing it up fierce. It’s a cathartic night of fun.

By Chad Armstrong

& Juliet is booking in Melbourne, Australia till May 14th 2023. Click here for tickets and more information.

Leave a Reply

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: