& Juliet musical features modern-day take on Romeo And Juliet, gender relations
MELBOURNE – Shakespeare’s centuries-old tale of star-crossed lovers Romeo And Juliet is going into uncharted territory.
A new jukebox musical, which stages its Asian premiere in Singapore in September, is set to flip the script on the classic love story, reimagining what would happen if Juliet had not killed herself for Romeo and received a second chance at life and love – on her terms.
From the writer of the award-winning comedy series Schitt’s Creek (2015 to 2020) David West Read and featuring a playlist of pop anthems from superstar songwriter-producer Max Martin like Since U Been Gone‚ Roar, Baby One More Time and Larger Than Life, & Juliet is produced by Michael Cassel Group in association with MTM/Leyline and presented by Base Entertainment Asia.
Since premiering in Manchester, England, in 2019, the Tony-nominated show has been performed on Broadway and the West End, and is on tour in Melbourne until July 29. It will run at Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands from Sept 21 to Oct 8.
The story sees Juliet ditching her infamous ending for a fresh beginning and choosing her own fate. What ensues is a celebration of self-discovery and a modern-day take on gender relations, including that between husband and wife.
The 27-year-old says: “Juliet is released from many of the shackles that the original story put her in, and this gives her licence to take a look at her life and evaluate what she really wants.
“She has the biggest heart and the best intentions always... I found it made a lot of sense with how open Juliet is to love.”
Cast member Blake Appelqvist, who plays Romeo, initially had some questions about the role’s function in the revisionist versions, but the 30-year-old now understands that although the musical is Juliet’s show, Romeo is still part of it.
The up-and-comer says: “In rehearsals, the directors really encouraged us to tell the story through a modern lens. What would the characters look like today?”
So to create an updated interpretation of Romeo, Appelqvist drew inspiration from pop stars such as Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber and Justin Timberlake, as well as rockers Elvis Presley and Adam Lambert.
“There is so much you can do with a role like Romeo – it is a playground on stage every night.”
Former Australian Idol finalist Rob Mills, who plays Shakespeare, says that although & Juliet is not as well-known as other musicals, its title is likely to raise curiosity among Singaporean audiences.
“Why is the ‘Romeo’ missing?” the 41-year-old teases. “I think that sort of piques your interest a bit.”
His character, Mills adds, is a writing genius, but also sometimes gets things wrong. By allowing Shakespeare to hear his wife’s perspective and reach a compromise, the musical takes a more egalitarian look at the husband-wife dynamic, he adds.
“I think there is a really important message for couples – it is not all smooth sailing and an Instagram life all the time. You have conflict with your partner, and our characters are trying to navigate their relationship, which I think is the way the world is.”
The 37-year-old says: “This show inquires about that family framework, and suggests there probably were really clever women who did not have the opportunity to use their voice because it was just not how society functioned then. & Juliet plays with this notion of a woman stepping up and voicing her ideas.”
She adds: “Anne Hathaway in & Juliet is so funny and smart, and drives the story. It is kind of a rare thing to encounter a female character that has so much agency and that really appeals to me. She has got so much heart and life in her.”
Another strong female character is the nurse Angelique, portrayed by former Australian Idol winner Casey Donovan, who says the musical will offer a joyful, exciting and eye-opening night out at the theatre.
The 35-year-old adds: “It will empower young people to be unapologetically themselves.”
Book It/& Juliet (R18)
Where: Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue
When: Sept 21 to Oct 8; Tuesdays to Fridays, 8pm; Saturdays, 2pm and 8pm; Sundays, 1pm and 6.30pm
Admission: $68 to $238 from Marina Bay Sands (str.sg/io2H) and Sistic (str.sg/io2V)