Theatre Review: & JULIET – Opera House, Manchester

Miriam Teak-Lee and the cast of & JULIET.

Miriam Teak-Lee as Juliet and the cast of & JULIET. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Fresh, vibrant and fun, & JULIET is one of the most inventive musicals of the year

5 out of 5 stars

It’s fair to say that everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet. William Shakespeare’s tragic tale of two star-crossed lovers has been reimagined, redefined and reinvented so many times that it’s almost impossible to deliver something new. But what if instead of ending her life at the end of the play, Juliet decided to ‘get a life’? In fact, what if Juliet’s famous ending was really just her beginning? This is the premise behind brand new musical & JULIET.

Set to songs written by legendary Swedish songwriter Max Martin, & JULIET takes the most famous love story of all time and remixes it – pop style. Under pressure from his wife, William Shakespeare is forced to explore a different ending for Juliet when penning his most popular play, the young teen instead heading off to Paris with her Nurse and best friends for a whirlwind trip of romance, self-discovery and second chances.

At this point, you’d be forgiven for being a little sceptical about the plot for & JULIET – let’s face it, it does sound unimaginably ridiculous. But thanks to Soutra Gilmour’s inventive set design, Paloma Young’s vibrant costumes and Jennifer Weber electrifying choreography, & JULIET is in fact, one of the most inventive musicals of the year.

Oliver Tompsett and ensemble of & JULIET

Oliver Tompsett as William Shakespeare and the ensemble of & JULIET. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Of course, this musical is all about the score. From Britney and Backstreet Boys to Goulding and Grande, Max Martin has written no less than 22 number one hits, many of which feature in the show. From BABY ONE MORE TIME and SINCE U BEEN GONE to ROAR and EVERYBODY (BACKSTREET’S BACK) the way the songs are incorporated into the plot is not only fun but incredibly inventive, with Tony and Grammy Award-winning orchestrator Bill Sherman giving many of the tracks a fresh edge thanks to their new arrangements.

In the lead role of Juliet, Miriam Teak-Lee is simply sensational, bringing youthful enthusiasm, style and likeability to the young teen who’s just had her heartbroken. Her solo of BABY, ONE MORE TIME is arguably the highlight of the show (although ROAR comes pretty close too), with Teak-Lee delivering an intense vocal performance over a bed of dramatic orchestral strings. There’s not a shred of the schoolgirl dance party here.

Jordan Luke Gage as Romeo and cast members of & JULIET

Jordan Luke Gage as Romeo and cast members of & JULIET. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

But it isn’t just Teak-Lee who stands out – which isn’t surprising when you look at the cast list. West End stars Oliver Tompsett and Cassidy Janson are excellent as William Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway, while Jordan Luke Gage comes close to stealing the show as Romeo, not only for his incredible vocal performance but also for his spot-on comic timing.

More importantly, this joyous musical riff on Romeo & Juliet feels fresh, vibrant and vital. Underneath the explosive fusion of styles and pop music is a story of an independent young woman taking control of her life and deciding her own fate. This is female empowerment at its best, proving just like Juliet says, “when it comes to love, there’s always life after Romeo”.

& JULIET runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 12 October 2019