Australian Dance Reviews

‘& JULIET’: The pop culture masterpiece

The original Australian company of '& Juliet'. Photo by Daniel Boud.
The original Australian company of '& Juliet'. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Sydney Lyric Theatre, Sydney.
12 April 2024.

& Juliet, created by pop music’s #1 hitmaker Max Martin, Emmy Award-winning writer from Schitt’s Creek David West Read, and Director Luke Sheppard, spares no detail as this uproarious and entertaining production flips Shakespeare’s script, weaving a narrative of self-discovery and redemption filled with laughter and poignancy.

This production is like a jukebox that you can’t get enough of — it’s packed with theatrical mastery and witty elements that keep you hooked from start to finish. From the layered storyline and relatable themes to the dynamic characters, contagious tunes, textured set design, and standout costumes, every detail is on point. It’s a pop culture masterpiece that’s cohesive, tight, and seriously powerful.

The story’s title hints at its premise. Imagine if Romeo’s tragic end marked the beginning of Juliet’s story. What if Juliet’s fate wasn’t sealed by death? This is the challenge Anne (Amy Lehpamer) presents to Shakespeare (Rob Mills), as Juliet embarks on a journey of empowerment, forging her own destiny. Learning of Romeo’s (Clay Roberts, covering for Blake Appelqvist) multiple love afffairs, Juliet defies societal expectations of marriage, venturing out on her own path. At its heart, & Juliet reimagines a world where Juliet, of Romeo and Juliet fame, opts not to sacrifice herself for romantic love. Set to the irresistible beats of Max Martin’s iconic soundtrack, the story unfolds with each scene, demonstrating that life persists beyond Romeo’s demise. 

Lorinda May Merrypor, in the lead role of Juliet, delivered a performance that reverberated far beyond the confines of the theater. With her electrifying vocals, inexhaustible energy and dance abilities, she completley embodied the character, mesmerizing audiences as a dynamic force on stage.

Rob Mills breathed new life into Shakespeare’s character on stage, blending timeless charm and wit with a contemporary twist as he grappled with Anne’s provocative notions of female empowerment. His ingenious efforts to reunite Romeo and Juliet surprised and delighted audiences, especially when he rallied the troops in the De Bois Band’s spirited rendition of “Everybody” by the Backstreet Boys.

Amy Lehpamer, portraying Anne, took the reins in flipping the script. Disenchanted with the traditional and rigid story arc, she became the catalyst for reshaping the narrative.

Newcomers Jesse Dutlow, portraying May, and Yashith Fernando as Francois, injected fresh layers into the storyline with their compelling performances. Their remarkable talent shone not only in vocals but also in their captivating stage presence. In the spirit of the original play’s themes of rebellion and self-discovery, May emerges as a character who defies traditional labels, offering a dynamic perspective on friendship and individuality. As May develops feelings for Francois, whose father (Hayden Tee) is determined to betroth him, this storyline marks a significant stride forward for queer representation on stage. From exploring queerness to delving into nonbinary identity and pansexuality, the narrative boldly embraces a diverse range of love, acceptance, and experiences.

Jennifer Weber’s choreography was characterized by its precision, texture and dynamic range, showcasing sheer brilliance. The seamless transitions maintained the show’s momentum, demonstrating masterful artistry in supporting storytelling. A standout moment was the chemistry between May and Francois, embodied by dancers lunging low, building energy between the new lovers before a bolt of love strikes, propelling the dancers backwards. This captivating choreography, coupled with Howard Hudson’s ingenious lighting design, created a powerful synergy on stage – this was just one moment amongst many standout numbers. 

Soutra Gilmour’s detailed set design celebrated the rich texture of Shoreditch’s painted walls and street art. From the graffiti love hearts and scrawled padlocks in the Verona scene to the romantic ambience of Paris, each cityscape possessed its unique atmosphere, yet remained seamlessly cohesive. Bordering on maximalism, & Juliet provided Gilmour with a vast canvas to create a collage of diverse interests and influences, resulting in an immersive visual tapestry.

Paloma Young, the brilliant costume designer, seamlessly blended the iconic silhouettes of the Renaissance era with the edgy street culture aesthetic within the tapestry of this production. Her masterful cohesion of fabrics and textures, incorporating a mix of light and heavy-weight materials alongside sculpted motifs, harmonized effortlessly with the sets and the dynamic movements of the characters and dancers.

Alongside its hilarious and heartwarming storyline comes a playlist featuring some of the greatest hits in pop music history! With tunes from Katy Perry, Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys, Ariana Grande, Pink, Justin Timberlake, and many more, & Juliet delivers an electrifying concert-like experience. Max Martin, the spotlight-shy genius behind countless number-one hits spanning from the 1990s to the 2020s, is the mastermind behind the music. With more chart-toppers than any other artist this century, he’s been hailed as the Shakespeare of pop music. Combining all these elements, and following its West End premiere and an impressive 8 x Olivier Awards nominations, it’s no surprise that & Juliet has become one of Broadway’s most unexpected and spectacular triumphs. 

Presented by the Michael Cassel Group in association with MTM/Leyeline, this international smash hit musical is now gracing the stage at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. Don’t miss this ingenious fusion of theatrical tradition and contemporary pop culture — a celebration that demands to be experienced firsthand.

By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.

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