curtain call

‘& Juliet’ reimagines romance in the age of TikTok with Max Martin’s Grammy-winning songbook

And Juliet Broadway
Lorna Courtney, center, and the cast of ‘& Juliet.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Welcome to Curtain Call, our mostly queer take on the latest openings on Broadway and beyond.

The Rundown:

What would happen if Juliet didn’t die at the end of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy? & Juliet, Broadway’s latest jukebox musical, offers a modern spin and features — for better or worse — an instantly recognizable song list from five-time Grammy winner Max Martin, who’s written and/or produced for some of the music industry’s biggest names, including Ariana Grande, Pink, Britney Spears, and the Weeknd.

Love is in the air, but so is a fresh perspective that empowers Juliet to consider a happy future that’s not contingent on a guy, along with her best friend’s budding romance that busts open Broadway’s binary.

No Tea, No Shade:

The Stephen Sondheim Theatre is home to & Juliet’s open-ended Broadway run. While its namesake may not be rolling in his grave, he’s likely giving a little side-eye to the massively entertaining endeavor with the unoriginal score. But don’t discount Bill Sherman’s terrific orchestrations and arrangements, which cascade in all the right moments for dramatic punch, punctuated even more by Gareth Owen’s bass-heavy sound design, executed at concert-level decibels.

Book writer David West Read (who served as a writer and executive producer on Schitt’s Creek) neatly stitches the play within in a play together, as the arrogant William Shakespeare (Stark Sands) and his wife Anne Hathaway (Betsy Wolfe) hash out Romeo & Juliet’s alternate ending with an enthusiastic cast of hip-hopping Gen Zs and millennials. Choreographer Jennifer Weber (also represented on Broadway this season with KPOP) does due diligence, maneuvering the young company who beam with broad smiles as if they were a cheer squad plucked from a high school football game.

One not-so-happy-go-lucky presence is May (Justin David Sullivan), Juliet’s nonbinary friend, whose journey is as much about discovering self-love as it is finding someone to love. Anne succinctly sets the premise when William questions May’s name.

And Juliet Broadway
Justin David Sullivan in ‘& Juliet.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

“Do you really think it’s up to you to question May’s gender or sexuality,” she asks, “or do you think maybe May is whoever May is, and it’s really none of your business?” May finds a glimmer of hope in Francois (Philippe Arroyo), but a love triangle ensues when he becomes betrothed to Juliet — oh, the drama!

A pop song is never far away, but when & Juliet isn’t pummeling forward for audience members with a TikTok attention span, director Luke Sheppard extracts the very best from the acting company, including a breakout performance by Lorna Courtney as Juliet — a modern-day heroine for the ages. When Courtney sings “Problem” (first recorded by Ariana Grande and viewed more than 57 million times on YouTube), it’s clear that we’re seeing a Juliet for a new generation.

Let’s Have a Moment:

And Juliet Broadway
Melanie La Barrie, left, and Lorna Courtney in ‘& Juliet.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

& Juliet also makes a point to reflect on the importance of unconditional love. While Juliet’s parents want her wed to satisfy their own agendas, her nurse Angélique (a powerhouse Melanie La Barrie) serves the real truth. When Juliet asks, “What if I’m the problem? What if I’m destined to mess everything up?” Angélique responds with Pink’s “F*ckin’ Perfect.”

We only get a snippet of the verse and chorus, but it’s enough for La Barrie to bring down the house with a lullaby that transforms into an anthem.

The Last Word:

Lorna Courtney
Lorna Courtney in ‘& Juliet.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

“It’s embarrassing for me to say, but I didn’t know who Max Martin was,” Courtney, the actress playing Juliet, told the New York Times. “Then I looked him up and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this man is, like, famous.’ I couldn’t believe how big his catalog was.”

Audiences will likely feel the same way as & Juliet pummels through 29 of Martin’s biggest hits. It’s a blessing and a curse: a blessing because they’re so damn good, and a curse because if you’ve listened to any popular music over the past several decades, you can’t help but undergo euphoric recall of its original recording.

An embarrassment of riches isn’t such a terrible curse for a new(ish) Broadway musical (it even dares to mention the Scottish play aloud). & Juliet will undoubtedly find its audience as its central character breaks away from what reality TV romances so often promote, forgoing the idea that she must find a man to be happy.

& Juliet plays on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.

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