& Juliet

Music and lyrics by Max Martin and Friends, book by David West Read

Produced by Max Martin, Tim Headlington and Theresa Steele

Opera House, Manchester

10 September 2019 - 12 October 2019; Shaftsbury Theatre London from November 2

2hr 40min

It's the balcony scene, but not as you know it. Miriam-Teak Lee takes centre stage as Juliet. All pics: Johan Persson

So, lots of hype, world premiere prior to London and all that. The red carpet was out in Quay Street for the celeb audience as the rather awkwardly-titled &Juliet opened for professional scrutiny after three weeks of previews.

You’ll have seen my star rating already, so you know you really ought to catch it here, now, at Manchester prices. Funny, original, spectacular, quite brilliantly performed and technically absolutely first rate, it needs just a nip and a tuck here and there to be a surefire long-runner.

It isn’t that easy to categorise. It’s another juke box musical certainly, but with a difference. The nearest example in basic terms is probably Mamma Mia – in that familiar pop songs are shoehorned into a new story. Though this story is very different...

The score is by Swedish pop guru Max Martin, whose hits over the last 30 years have included Baby One More Time, Everybody, Love Me Like You Do, Can’t Feel My Face, I Want It That Way and so on, recorded by luminaries such as Backstreet Boys, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Ariana Grande.

Re-orchestrated (by Bill Sharman) and reused in various contexts, this is a score you know, but one that still packs surprises because of the way it’s used – with great wit and style: undoubtedly a soaring, melodic, anthem-driven evening overall and with actual tunes, which makes a change.

Story-wise? Well, Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway stays the Bard’s hand when it comes to Juliet’s fate and instead of plunging the dagger into her breast she lives, to go on to a series of adventures that Mr and Mrs Shakespeare pen as the show develops. Romeo, anyway, wasn’t worth dying for: much to Juliet’s surprise, it seems he had already been playing the field.

Edgy and often funny, the script largely ignores time and place to zip across the centuries to pursue subjects including gender fluidity and in particular a gay love story, leading to acceptance and empowerment.

As I say, it’s a terrific cast, headed by Miriam Teak-Lee as the totally sassy Juliet, rarely off stage and commanding it. Other standouts are Arun Blair-Mangat as Juliet’s best friend, and Melanie La Barrie as her Nurse. But all the principals are perfectly cast and the ensemble has insane levels of energy, vamping up the choreography to spectacular effect.

And speaking of spectacle, the visuals are a dazzling succession of set-pieces, involving a double revolve, massed video projections and enough lights to rival Blackpool Illuminations. And there's totally brilliant sound: for once you can hear every word of every lyric. That’s real class.

@JulietMusical @palaceandopera #MiriamTeakLee


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