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Review: & Juliet at the Lyric Theatre

Review by Carly Fisher

For someone who is a major fan of musical theatre, jukebox musicals are usually lower on my list of ‘must see’s.’ I generally don’t love how the storyline is not a consistent tale, but rather a script plagued with interruptions of pre-existing songs that are like jigsaw pieces that don’t always fit. Over the past decade, the genre has certainly improved drastically (with front runners like Beautiful: The Carol King Story doing wonders to redefine the genre), but still, I do appreciate how this style of musical theatre is not for everyone. 

So to find a jukebox musical that is so self-aware in its writing, so humorous in the way it includes its songs through the narrative, and so blatantly charming, is a pure joy…and really, if you asked me to summarise this review into just a sentence it would be that: & Juliet is pure joy. 

I first became interested in the song’s soundtrack during Covid and so made quick moves to see this show as soon as both theatre and travel were back. Sydney is my fifth time seeing this show and it is still just as fun…only difference is now that I am in on the jokes before they happen. I mention this because before I delve into the show itself, I want to make special note of the ensemble who dance their hearts out from before the show starts, till the very last second of the curtain call. They dance through the songs, their dance moves are the transitions, they guide the narrative through dance, etc and through all of this dance, every single accent is sharp, every move is hit, every genre is mastered. I’ve been fortunate to see the West End and Broadway casts perform these same routines and so can write confidently when I note that our Aussie dancers are truly up there with the best of the best. Jennifer Weber’s choreography is a clever blend of commercial and hip hop styles that fit perfectly in Paloma Young’s expert costume design (more on this to come) to blend the old and the new seamlessly. 

Georgia Anderson, Jade Delmiguez, James Elmer, Riley Gill, Jerome Javier, Georgia Kennedy, Jordan Koulos, Coby Njoroge, Jake O-Brien, Clay Roberts, Jacob Rozario, Selina Salgado, Sean Sinclair, Nathan James Tamati, Romy Vuskan, Aadhya Wijegoonawardena and Imani Williams - congratulations - you truly stand out! 

The concept of the show is brilliantly simple - what if Juliet didn’t die? What if Romeo was just the beginning of her story? 

In a beautifully feminist twist on the original Shakespeare play, these questions continue: what if Juliet was given the agency and the encouragement to make her own choices? 

The show opens moments ahead of a fictional opening night of Romeo and Juliet and the famous playwright has just completed the ending for his latest masterpiece - a story of 2 teenage star-crossed lovers who pay the ultimate price for love (sound familiar?). On a rare night out of Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s wife, Anne, is ready for a show and a large glass of wine…until hearing the ending of the play prompts her to action, grabbing the quill and preparing to give 14 year old Juliet a chance at life beyond teenage love. 

The wit comes thick and fast through the brilliant book by David West Read who gives all the characters great material to work with but really allows Anne to shine. Amy Lehpamer takes this in her stride giving a gorgeous performance as the intelligent, sassy, strong version of Anne that she finds within herself to re-write Juliet’s story. Read has cleverly integrated historical truths about the Shakespeare into the script to give us history nerds a good giggle (yes, she really was just left his second best bed) and to remind us of the position of women at that time, compared to the re-written version we see before us. Lehpamer has long been an Aussie stage favourite and once again, she proves why. 

The night I was in, unfortunately the brilliant Casey Donovan (who is another of our Aussie stage greats in my opinion) was out. Though I always love the chance to see Donovan perform, this left the stage ready for Sarah Murr - who is a name that we need to start to see more and more on our stages and in leading roles - she is brilliant. Vocally strong, dynamic in her performance and with a great command of character, Murr is simply, excellent. 

Blake Appelqvist continues to shine in any role that they take on and I hope we continue to see Appelqvist in more and more roles, that increase in their emotional complexity too - I am positive they can pull this off. As Romeo, we couldn’t have had a better choice for someone in this role for the Australian cast. This character can be so off putting in the wrong hands but Appelqvist really gives Romeo the heart required to make the character wonderfully endearing. 

In the titular role, Lorinda May Merrypor absolutely belts (literally!). Merrypor has strengthened and matured so much since I saw the show mid-way through the Melbourne season and I watched her perform in Sydney with a new found confidence that made me elated to see someone newer to the Aussie scene, given such a chance! This is not a small role - Merrypor leads almost every song in the show and requires fabulous technique to continue to pull it off night after night as she does. Her voice is very pop-py which may be divisive for the traditional musical theatre fans in the room but to really do Max Martin’s music proud, this command of the pop genre is certainly required! 

On that, to me, one of the coolest parts about this show is that this long list of pop classics that many of us would be able to sing almost every word to, is entirely comprised of the music and lyrics of one person - Max Martin. These pop anthems that you know from performers like the Backstreet Boys, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, etc all have one musician and lyricist behind them and personally, this is a huge selling point of the show to me! It’s incredible really!

Overall though, it is the design that spoke to me from the first minute I walked into the London theatre, and five times and 4 cities later continues to impress - Soutra Gilmour’s scenic design, matched with Young’s costume, Andrzej Goulding video and projection, Howard Hudson’s lighting, Gareth Owen’s sound and Kylie Clarke’s wig/hair/make up design, unite for a beautifully creative mix of Tudor and Hip Hop. Gilmour’s brief was seemingly to dream huge and the vibrant set that emerges is a testament to great design and big imagination. Young’s costume offers the height of creativity as corsets are paired with baggy pants and frilled collars with denim jackets (for example). I absolutely love the costume design of this show and love finding a new unique piece for each ensemble I’ve seen - I now go looking for the costume variations. 

The whole show is about the big and the gaudy and anyone that critiques it negatively for this fact has simply missed the genius behind it. No, this show won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but my gosh, if you like clever design, well executed choreography, solid vocals and simply a good (and super camp may I add) time, this is for you. 

In a world and in an age where everything is taken so seriously, it’s a complete delight to return to the idea of going to the theatre simply for fun and entertainment. Yes, the storyline is light and the line up of songs is a laundry list of bops, but in my opinion, there’s no problem in any of that! Quite the opposite! Packed to the brim with exceptional talent and some of Australia’s top dancers filling the ensemble…this is entertainment for entertainment’s sake and that is a lost art form in and of itself. 

Don’t overthink it. 

Just treat yourself to a good time. 

Image Supplied


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