Sunday, October 29, 2023

& Juliet (Broadway)


William Shakespeare (Joe Moeller) has just concluded his new play, a tragedy entitled Romeo & Juliet. Anne Hathaway (Betsy Wolfe), his wife, is not happy though and insists that she takes part in a revision of the ending. Reluctant at first, he yields, and her first change is to let Juliet (Lorna Courtney) live and move on with her life, which she does with the help of her nurse Angelique (Melanie La Barrie). Together with her best friend May (Justin David Sullivan), they move 600 miles west to Paris and party the night away in a ball hosted by Lance du Bois (Paulo Szot) for his son Frankie (Philippe Arroyo) so they can find a suitable wife for him in order to avoid joining the army. As he locks eyes with Juliet, sparks fly, but his heart flutters even more when he sees her best friend. Is Juliet ready for another marriage?

How many times has Romeo & Juliet been remade? Ad nauseam. However, the core of the story remains the same and just given a different setting or time period each time. & Juliet decides to fully subvert this main plot point. Where most renditions end with her suicide, this one begins with her choice to stay alive and move on sans her beau. It is a bit weird because in essence that is no longer Romeo & Juliet, but then again this musical technically isn’t, now is it? In short, it is one big what-if fanfiction extravaganza reimagining of sorts turned into a jukebox musical.

Before we begin, a word of caution. & Juliet is what many people running around screaming WOKE at everything liberal they don’t agree with will consider to be truly woke. Women empowerment. LGBTQIA+ representation. Name it, & Juliet has it. As such, it might not be a good idea to take such friends of yours along for the ride. They might end up having a stroke, which might be good riddance in the end but hey, we are trying to be wholesome here. Simply put, this show will not appeal to some people. And that’s totally fine.

Enjoying & Juliet too much is tantamount to an obligatory age reveal. What similarities do songs such as Britney’s Baby One More Time, N*Sync’s It’s Gonna Be Me, and the Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That Way, among others, share, aside from being a resident of your playlist growing up in the late 90’s? Well, many of them were penned by a Swedish guy named Max Martin. You have to give it to the Swedes. They’ve been doing this since ABBA. Marry Martin’s discography with Shakespeare and & Juliet is what you get.

While we acknowledge that this show can and will totally coast along by virtue of the powerful nostalgic element of its setlist, there is something off about it when you compare it to the likes of similar jukebox musicals like Moulin Rouge, which is also very liberal with its us of pop songs from the 90’s moving forward. I can’t put a finger on it, but my gut feel is reinforced by some mild chuckles from the audience. It’s that feeling as though some of the songs were just shoehorned there, resulting in a rather weird fusion that somehow still works.

As for the actors, you have such a young cast full of vibrant energy, from the way they dance all the way to their belting out of songs you grew up with. It is refreshing and somehow makes you proud, by association, that these songs can now reach a younger generation. It’s like sharing something from your childhood that you know others outside your age group  can enjoy. Damn, this is so Tito-Tita on so many levels. Suffice it to say, this is the revamp of Romeo & Juliet we’ve all been waiting for. Modern. Edgy. So our 90’s.

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