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.