The young company, dressed in an amalgam of contemporary streetwear and nifty 16th century components (costumes, Paloma Young), amble onstage loosey goosey – waving, stretching, executing a few hip-hop steps (choreographer, Jennifer Weber – lots and lots of synchronized arms). & Juliet’s play within a play framework finds Anne Hathaway (Betsy Wolfe – good vocalist stuck with stage mugging) objecting to, then gratuitously interfering with Shakespeare’s in-process script for the tragedy Romeo and Juliet. “What if Juliet didn’t kill herself? She’s got her whole life ahead of her!” Tip off-there’s a jukebox onstage. (Stark Sands does the best he can in the bland Shakespeare role.)
Stark Sands (Shakespeare), Betsy Wolfe (Anne Hathaway)
When her husband objects, wily Anne counters, “Are you a strong enough man to write a strong woman?” He provisionally bends. Juliet (Lorna Courtney) is found at the site of Romeo’s death with headphones on, holding a dagger. “Oh, baby, baby/Was I supposed to know/That somethin’ wasn’t right?” she sings. (Ben Jackson Walker later appears as a yeoman-like Romeo looking like a character lost from Grease.) ‘No idea what the first of many graphic projections is meant to depict. (Some of these look like bad kaleidoscope psychedelics, many appear to be clip-art – Design by Andrze J. Goulding.)
Lorna Courtney (Juliet)
At the funeral, our heroine learns her inamorata had been liberally sleeping around or, as nurse Angelique quips, “The star-crossed lover has crossed stars with everyone in Verona.” (Melanie La Barrie has some spiffy turns.) On top of loss and confused fury, Juliet must contend with the Capulets deciding that as she’s unwed, they’ll send her to a nunnery. “My life is over!” the teenager whines to best friend May (he/she/they Justin David Sullivan who, to their credit, doesn’t camp it up). “I’m not a girl/Not yet a woman/All I need is time.”
At this point, much to her husband’s annoyance, Anne writes herself in as April, best friend #2. Juliet, May, April and Angelique flee 600 miles in a gypsy wagon – it’s a musical – to Paris. (Wildly uneven set design by Soutra Gilmour.) Looking for fun, they crash a ball thrown by Lance du Bois (Paolo Szot, not a comic bone in his body) so that shy, unmarried son, Francois (excellent, low key Philippe Arroyo), can find a wife i.e. straighten up and fly right. The assumedly repressed Juliet swings from a chandelier. (Set is awful, chandelier good looking.)
Philippe Arroyo (Francois), Justin David Sullivan (May)
So…long story short, Francois and May connect: “I don’t see you as a girl or a boy, just as my friend.” Francois and Juliet connect, Lance and Angelique connect (again), Romeo is reconsidered, Anne exults in her freedom arguing with Shakespeare who wants his quill back, the Bard joins his characters to counter some of her revised plot. With lighter touch, this could’ve been farce.
& Juliet is a contemporary piece featuring prewritten, situationally unspecific songs (think Sting’s The Last Ship.) David West Read (book) manages to baste together a story incorporating Shakespeare tropes only adults will catch: star-crossed, mismatched, and reunited lovers, occasional quotes, and politically correct mores: the self-realized woman, a non-binary lead character. Humor is ersatz vaudevillian. As to satirizing the era, Something Rotten did it way better.
Paolo Szot (Lance), Melanie La Barrie (Angelique)
Max Martin (songs) has written so many #1 hits for the likes of Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Pink, and Ariana Grande, his track record is rivaled only by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Much of the young audience knows the score. Some rise to dance in their seats when encouraged. Alas, numbers all sound the same. Still, theater audiences these days require very little to rise and applaud. Perhaps familiarity has become the bottom line. I hope not.
Lorna Courtney and the Company
Director Luke Sheppard keeps things lively and flowing.
Lighting by Howard Hudson is, to say the least, excessive
A call out is due to sound designer Gareth Owen who keeps lyrics intelligible despite the nature of the often pounding music.
Love the genre or choose otherwise.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
Songs by Max Martin and Friends
Book- David West Read
Music Supervisor – Bill Sherman
Director – Luke Sheppard
Stephen Sondheim Theatre
124 West 43rd Street