& Juliet

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Some jukebox musicals come and go faster than you can say Hit Me Baby One More Time others like Mamma Mia really hit the spot becoming staples of the theatre scene; enter new kid on the block & Juliet a magnificent mash-up of legendary songwriter Max Martin’s biggest hits which judging by tonight’s thunderous standing ovation is without doubt here to stay.

Bursting into vibrant life with opening number ‘Larger Than Life’ & Juliet directed by Luke Sheppard gives an absolute masterclass in musical theatre. Visually stunning and with a cast that reads like a who’s who of theatre royalty & Juliet takes you on a joyous ride of empowerment, uplifting fun and star quality sass.

Forget what you know about Romeo & Juliet, this fresh production transforms the Bard’s tragic tale as Anne Hathaway (played spectacularly by Cassidy Janson) tells husband William Shakespeare (an impressive Oliver Tompsett) that his ending for the star-crossed lovers is…well basically shit; thus opening the gates for Juliet’s journey of sensational self-discovery as she explores for the first time what it means to truly get a life!

Oliver Tompsett and Cassidy Janson take on part narrator part player roles as the two inventively weave themselves into the narrative, influencing and entertaining throughout. Tompsett makes for a determined, unwavering Shakespeare that is until wife Anne (Cassidy Janson) takes his quill and sets about influencing not only Juliet’s but her own story. Both are perfectly cast, they spark wonderfully off each other with razor sharp comedic timing and genuinely warm wit.

Miriam-Teak Lee is simply outstanding as Juliet, giving an absolutely world-class performance, delivering powerhouse vocals with ease while her warm charisma combined with instant likability gets the audience immediately on side. It’s a thrill to join her on this fabulous ride as we will this fine heroine to find her own happy ending.

Best friend May is played beautifully by Arun Blair-Mangat his raw fragility when delivering Britney’s much-loved ‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman’ is packed with genuine heart and gut-wrenching emotion while Tim Mahendran is excellent as love interest Francois adding a perfect twist to proceedings while taking the story to another unexpected level.

Special mention must go to David Badella and Melanie La Barrie as Lance and Nurse who are quite simply a joy to watch, bringing the house down during their outrageously funny duet Teenage Dream/Break Free. Jordan Luke Gage introduces us to a very different kind of Romeo, an empty-headed heartthrob who may not be quite as innocent as he seems, Gage thrills with his spectacular arrival while his hilarious doe-eyed dorkish delivery is lapped up by the audience.

No review of the show would be complete without heaping praise on the insanely talented ensemble who look like they are having the time of their lives on stage. They deliver Jennifer Weber’s slick choreography with precision and a sass Beyoncé would be proud of just when you think they couldn’t get any better they crank it up a notch more, absolutely stunning.

Set designer Soutra Gilmour has created something epic here as the constantly evolving set continues to surprise while Paloma Young’s stunning costume design is a glorious meeting of period mixed with modern, think intricately detailed corsets teamed with sumptuous sports luxe and you’re halfway there.

It’s hard to believe the songs featured weren’t specifically written for the show Bill Sherman and Dominic Fallacaro’s arrangements of Max Martin’s mega hits fit the show like a glove while David West Read’s script finds a measured balance between hilariously funny and touchingly tender.

& Juliet is the musical we need right now, the ultimate in feel-good fun offering a joyous night of escapism while tackling modern themes with positivity and truth. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll dance your socks off before leaving with the biggest smile on your face with a heart well and truly warmed. Sensational fun from the first beat, we absolutely want Shakespeare that way!

& Juliet is on at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 12th October before it moves to London’s Shaftesbury Theatre tickers available here.

Interview | & Juliet | Miriam-Teak Lee

Here at Opening Night there are a few things we really, really love: 1 of them is Shakespeare another is pop music, especially if said pop music is written by the legend that is Max Martin. Our interest was well and truly peaked when we heard another of our favourites, director Luke Sheppard would be at the helm of a brand new musical which would combine these two mediums and better still it would officially open in Manchester!

Now with less than two weeks until the first hotly anticipated performance of & Juliet we were lucky enough to join the cast during rehearsals to get a feel for this innovative production; hearing a little more about what audiences can expect from key members of the talented cast as they prepare to wow Manchester ahead of an autumn West End run.

Taking on the iconic role of Juliet is award-winning musical theatre superstar Miriam-Teak Lee who gave us some inside information on the starting point for this epic new production.

“We know how the ending is supposed to go but in this production we reimagine the ending and wonder what would happen if Juliet doesn’t kill herself? She looks up to the stars and asks that there must be something else for her destiny, she just knows that this final path isn’t it for her.”

We learn quite early on that Juliet realises there’s more to life than first love (thank goodness) and so the story develops with the use of much-loved Max Martin songs placed throughout the production cleverly moving the narrative along. “It’s really a story of empowerment” said Miriam-Teak “Anne Hathaway who is played by Cassidy Janson is basically taking the quill off Shakespeare and leading us in a new narrative, saying ‘Actually I think this would be a much better ending to that play.’ With all musicals I think songs are used at the point where speaking is no longer enough, you can’t express what you are trying to say so you take it into a different forum, that being music.”

The production is literally teaming with hit after hit from legendary songwriter Max Martin: Britney Spears’ “Oops… I Did It Again”, Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody”, Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do”, and The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face to name but a few, Miriam-Teak told us about one of her favourites. “Hit Me Baby One More Time as Juliet’s first song it’s amazing to sing, I think it’s just perfect for Juliet, there are beautiful strings, and it’s been done in such a creative way which makes it sooooo dramatic. Juliet sings the song in the moment she is potentially going to kill herself to join Romeo, she is literally looking to the heavens saying ‘give me a sign’ it’s so clever, these songs that we know so well take on a totally different meaning.”

Recreating an iconic character could be quite a daunting task but Miriam-Teak looks at playing Juliet in this new production as something to embrace. “At first I thought this is really huge how am I going to do this? But then I realised in originating the role within this new piece I don’t have to live up to anything else and I have an opportunity to breathe new life into who she is. Taking what we already know about Juliet onto a brand new journey actually feels amazing so it’s definitely excitement I’m feeling rather than pressure.”

Intrigued by the combination of contemporary Max Martin songs and the works of Shakespeare Miriam-Teak gave us a little insight into what we can expect from the costumes, “Oh wow they are amazing, Paloma Young is doing such an incredible job on them. It’s a world in-between the Renaissance period so we have corsets but then then we have more modern elements too so we’re placed between today and several centuries ago. The colour palette is absolutely beautiful too, audiences will love them. Add in Jennifer Webber’s choreography and it feels like a world in-between a musical and a concert, Jen does such a great job of bringing those two worlds together.”

The overwhelming feeling we get from spending time with the cast in rehearsals are that of real joy and empowerment, Miriam-Teak tells us what she hopes audiences will take away from this new musical. “I think the story really is about self-discovery and finding love within yourself which I think is just so important especially in this day and age with the social media era that we’re in and how many people look to others to find the love they are unable to find within. I think it’s so great that we can bring that message of finding your power within yourself to other people.”

Miriam-Teak summed up perfectly why Manchester audiences should be booking their & Juliet tickets asap, “If you want to see a complete spectacle of excitement and energy featuring songs that you know done in a completely different way you won’t even be ready but you will LOVE it!”

& Juliet opens at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 10th September and runs until Saturday 12th October tickets available here

 

Interview | & Juliet | Miriam-Teak Lee

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Something VERY exciting is heading our way this September; brand new musical & Juliet opens at Manchester’s Opera House ahead of a West End run and will aim to prove that there is life after Romeo when instead of giving up on life Juliet decides it’s time for her to get a life!

This vibrant new musical will feature not only songs from legendary writer Max Martin (Britney Spears’ “Oops… I Did It Again”, Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody”, Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do”, and The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face to name but a few) but also boasts a cast that literally reads like a who’s who of musical theatre including Miriam-Teak Lee (Hamilton, On The Town), Oliver Tompsett (Wicked, We Will Rock You, Kinky Boots), Cassidy Janson (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chess) and Jordan Luke Gage (Bat Out Of Hell).

Pic copyright Phil Tragen 2019

This timely and innovative new musical is directed by Luke Sheppard (In the Heights) with a book by David West Read (Netflix’s Schitt’s Creek) and choreography from the internationally renowned Jennifer Weber.

& Juliet looks set to be an iconic new production which best of all Manchester gets first!

Former Hamilton star and award-winning actress Miriam-Teak Lee will take on the role of Juliet as she escapes to Paris with her best pals in a bid to choose her own ending. We were lucky enough to catch up with Miriam-Teak Lee ahead of the show’s opening in Manchester to hear a little more about this revolutionary musical and what we can expect from this new kind of Juliet. 

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How is the classic story of Romeo & Juliet reimagined in & Juliet and how where does it start in terms of the original play?

& Juliet reimagines the ending to Romeo and Juliet and asks, what if this was just the beginning for Juliet. & Juliet is a play within a play so it starts with Shakespeare (Oliver Tompsett) telling his fellow actors the ending to his new play Romeo and Juliet, when Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife (Cassidy Janson) hears, she asks why don’t we rewrite that ending… and continue on. She explains that Juliet is still young and has her whole life ahead of her, so why would she kill herself because of one boyfriend. So as she takes the quill and begins to write, we see Juliet at Romeo’s tomb, distraught and contemplating with the dagger. At which point she sings “Hit Me Baby One More Time” as she looks to the stars to “give her a sign”.

Juliet sounds like a strong, independent character and a really inspiring role model to women. What does it feel like to play such an exciting lead role in a brand new musical?

It feels incredible to play such a strong character. I genuinely believe that Juliet has always had strength but that isn’t necessarily explored in depth in the original Romeo and Juliet, so it is amazing to be able to tell a story that puts a magnifying glass on Juliet’s inner power and journey to self discovery. It’s important that young girls have someone to look up to, to be influenced by, and I really feel that Juliet could really be the inspiration that they need. To know that they can do anything they put their mind to, that they can be in the driving seat of their own life and that there is no limit to their greatness!

Performing in Hamilton must have been an incredible experience. Was this your West End debut and how did this role help prepare you for playing Juliet?

My actual first West End Debut was playing Claire DeLoone in Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in Summer 2017. And I was awarded Best Actress in a Musical for that role at The Stage Debut Awards which was incredible. So that role, coupled with being a cover of all the Schuyler Sisters in Hamilton really did prepare me for playing Juliet. It taught me about constantly being aware of all the actors on stage, using my initiative when things went wrong, bouncing off people’s energy, staying true to my character but allowing myself to discover new nuances and relationships, even in the moments when I’m not speaking or singing. And it taught me that the power of whatever you feel on that stage is whatever the audience feel, so never deprive them of the truth.

The musical features an incredible score from prolific songwriter Max Martin. What is your favourite track to perform on stage and why?

With the public performances we have been doing recently, I have been performing Roar quite a lot and that is such a powerful moment in the show for Juliet. I love performing that song because it is the pinnacle moment for Juliet in her search for self discovery. She literally realises in real time the kind of person she used to be, how she used to “bite her tongue and hold her breathe” constantly trying to please others, and this is a moment where she says I am going to do as I please and you are all going to watch me succeed! It’s such an empowering moment in the show and the audience will feel that too!

What can you tell us about what your costume style in & Juliet?

I LOVE the costume designs by Paloma Young, I cannot wait for everyone to see them. It’s a very clever mix of Renaissance and modern day. We have included use of the tight bodices with corsets but shorter skirts and a sporty flare. It’s iconic!

How much choreography can we expect to see in & Juliet and what kind of dance genres have the creative team drawn upon to create a fresh new musical style?

There is so much choreography in this show by the incredible Jennifer Weber! There is definitely a hip hop/commercial/new age style to the choreography that works so effortlessly with Luke Sheppard’s brilliant direction to further the story, to transport us and to absolutely engulf us in this world of wonder!

Why do you think Manchester audiences in particular will love the musical?

Manchester is the home of music, seeing so many great artists go there and perform there. I think Manchester will receive the show incredibly and we can’t wait for them to see it first!

What three words would you use to describe & Juliet?

Revolutionary! Spectacle! Inspiring!

Shakespeare and pop music are a unique combination! How do the two blend together?

It combines the greatest pop writer of the 16th/17th century with one of the greatest pop writers of the 20th/21st century. So I think it’s a pretty iconic blend and one that will stick in people’s minds for years to come!

Finally, what can audiences expect when they come and see & Juliet?

They can expect to see a whole new outlook on Juliet Capulet, they can expect to have an incredible night, they can expect to laugh their socks off and go on a journey filled with all their favourite songs, sung in a completely different way with a whole new meaning. It’s a show not to be missed!

& Juliet plays at the Manchester Opera House from Tuesday 10th September until Saturday 12th October tickets available here.

Interview | Darragh Cowley & Jabez Sykes | Spring Awakening

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Ground-breaking pop-rock Broadway musical Spring Awakeningwith it’s emotive and important themes of sexuality, religion, gender and self-discovery opens in Manchester’s Award winning Hope Mill theatre this week. The UK revival of Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater’s musical set in the late nineteenth-century has themes which resonate heavily today as we follow a group of young teenagers on a journey of self-discovery in a environment of censorship and silence.

The production which opens for previews on Thursday 29th March is the second of five in-house musicals this year from the enormously successful collaboration between Hope Mill Theatre’s founders Joseph Houston and William Whelton and co-artistic director and resident producer Katy Lipson. Directed by Luke Sheppard the defining musical of the last decade has created a buzz on social media since the moment it was first announced.

We spoke to Manchester cast members Darragh Cowley who plays Melchior and Jabez Sykes who takes on the role of Moritz to find out a little more about the production and hear how it feels to be performing something so hotly anticipated on home soil.

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Opening Night: For those unfamiliar with the show can you give us a brief outline and tell us a little about your characters?

Darragh Cowley: I play Melchoir, who is a very forward thinking young teenager, very clever, very intelligent. Spring Awakening is a real pop, rock, rah rah against the system really, it’s the youth trying to defy the system in which they have been brought up and to break the traditions that they don’t really think are right. It covers themes of teen pregnancy, child abuse, mental health and youung persons suicide but then the overall theme towards the end is about growth and rebuild and how people can get back from that sort of thing, it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece it’s gorgeous.

Jabez Sykes: I play Mortiz, there’s a lot going on for Moritz at this time, he’s dealing with a lot of pressure, his mental health maybe isn’t the best that it could be, which has been quite a daunting task really to take on, it’s such a sensitive subject and such a hot subject right now but I really think we’ve done it justice, working with the cast, our director Luke Sheppard, choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves and musical director Gareth Bretherton it’s been a real collaborative experience and I think we’ve really got there with tackling the important issues in the piece.

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How as a cast do you work on developing trust and chemistry?

JS: From day one we were all so comfortable with each other, it was almost like we knew each other from another life.

DC: There was such a nice feeling in the room, it was immediately really comfortable.

JS: It really was lovely, I think no one is scared of getting anything wrong, everyone is so supportive of each other, which makes for a really great working environment.

DC: Luke Sheppard our director has made it very much a collaborative process so before we do any scene we’ll sit and talk through it so we can all put our ideas in, even a few weeks into the rehearsal process we might say, actually Luke can I try this idea, can I still play with it? And he just tells us to go for it and see what it’s like, it might be terrible idea and he’ll say ‘Darragh what were you thinking?’ But if not he is more than welcome to accommodate and include our ideas.

JS: In terms of trust a lot of the subjects are very delicate and everyone is fighting their own personal battles so something might affect somebody in a way that doesn’t affect somebody else, but one of the things we’ve all learned is that you have to be patient with everybody, you have to have respect for each other and I think with that comes a natural trust.

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There is a real online buzz about the show, is that felt by the cast and does it add any pressure?

JS: I think there’s always that little bit of your head that’s saying oh my God so many people are really excited about this and I think because it’s such a special and quite a cult show for some people but I feel confident that what we have produced is a really, really beautiful piece and we’re excited now and ready for audiences to see it.

DC: The buzz online about the show has really put some wind behind our sails, I’ve never been in something of this scale, we’ve been rehearsing now for six weeks or so and I feel ready to stat beginning to share it, I’m excited, there’s a pressure but there’s an excitement too, I just feel right now let’s go, let’s do it!

JS: We really feel that everyone who has been tweeting about the show is really positive and really behind us and are coming to support us because they love the show and they want it to be as brilliant as we know it is.

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Are you looking forward to performing at Hope Mill Theatre?

DC: It’s a dream, I started my theatre career doing amateur dramatics at the plaza in Stockport, went through Manchester Musical Youth then went to Guilford to train for 3 years, finished two weeks ago and it’s literally a dream to come back to the city where it all started, where I grew up, went to school, it’s just gorgeous to be able to come back and say ‘Hi I’m an actor now, look I did it!’ It really is an absolute dream to be back in the city where I’m from.

JS: I’m so excited, I just can’t wait, it feels really special, I feel like things have gone full circle for me, I went to watch Parade at Hope Mill which was their first in-house musical, and I knew the moment it finished I wanted to work at Hope Mill and now here I am, I’m so grateful and so excited for this opportunity and I really cannot wait to get started.

Spring Awakening begins previews at Hope Mill Theatre on Thursday 29th March and runs until Thursday 3rd May tickets available here.