Opera House, Manchester 12/10/2019
Max Martin’s name may not be familiar to many, but the songs he has written, co-written and produced over his career definitely are. With classics like “…Baby One More Time” (Britney Spears), “Since U Been Gone” (Kelly Clarkson) and “Can’t Feel My Face” (The Weeknd) in his writing credits, it’s no wonder he is the third most successful songwriter with 22 number one singles in the US charts (ahead of him are Paul McCartney (32) and John Lennon (26)).
Martin’s hits have now been put to a new musical, & Juliet, written by playwright David West Read. The story follows an alternative path of Juliet (Miriam-Teak Lee) had she not committed suicide at the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy.
The show begins at Shoreditch circa 1600 on the opening night of “Romeo and Juliet”. The cast gradually fill the stage and “warm up” for their show with impromptu dance routines and audience interaction. After introducing Shakespeare (Oliver Tompsett) to “Larger Than Life” (Backstreet Boys) with clever use of a trapdoor and lifting platform (which is used effectively many times throughout the show), he discusses Juliet’s fate with his wife Anne (Cassidy Janson) and they decide on the new story. From this point, Juliet takes her leave to Paris to look for love once again.
& Juliet sits firmly in 2019 addressing social issues like female equality and gender identification. Juliet’s best friend May (Arun Blair-Mangat) identifies as non-binary in the show, and their line claiming their gender being nobody else’s business rightfully receives a great cheer from the audience. Blair-Mangat’s excellent rendition of “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” (Britney Spears) felt poignant and as if the ballad was written for this character.
As the lead role, Miriam-Teak Lee is an absolute powerhouse of talent. Her vocals are stunning and her performance of “Roar” (Katy Perry) is a highlight of the whole show. Her acting is superb and she gives such endearing qualities to the character mixed with likeable sass. The entire cast do a fantastic job with their roles in performing Martin’s hits. “It’s My Life” (Bon Jovi) rounds off act 1 in a hilarious and explosive manner that uses the whole ensemble.
Large screens and lights reminiscent of a pop concert take up the top half of the back drop and dominate the set design. The vibrant colours, intricate designs and impressive mechanics used for other set pieces allow the show to be a marvel to witness.
As a complete sensory overload, the full show was a triumph. The London transfer is bound to be a success if the level of entertainment at previews in Manchester is a taste of what is to come. This musical is unlike any other jukebox musicals, it’s as if those songs really did belong there.
& Juliet opens at Shaftesbury Theatre, London on 2nd November 2019 and is currently booking through until the end of March 2020.