Base Entertainment Asia
It is not often a fairly new international theatre production reaches Singapore’s shores. But the 2019 jukebox musical & Juliet, which has played in Britain, the United States and Australia, is now here with its unbridled optimism and Gen Z sensibility.
The production owes its success to its modern ideas of self-determination and love, as well as familiar hits from the 1990s and early 2000s.
Its story flips the script on Shakespeare’s famous Romeo And Juliet tragedy. It imagines what would happen if Juliet had not killed herself, and had a second chance at life and love on her terms.
The result is a fun-filled comedy about courage and finding the strength to be oneself. If the original 16th-century work was about death and hatred between two families, here there is life, hope and possibility.
And therein lies & Juliet’s charm, expressing how young people negotiate love and life in the 2020s. Most of the main characters are presented as being in their 20s, and are pulled in many directions by parental and societal expectations, desires of the heart and hormone-powered lust.
A sense of “wokeness” pervades, from its depiction of how people of all ages, races, genders and body types can be sexy, to its questioning of whom, and when, one should marry. Rated Advisory 16 (Some Mature Content), such ideas might be confronting to more conservative audiences, but refreshing and empowering to more liberal ones.
The production’s catchy tunes will probably appeal across the board. The show is based on the catalogue of Swedish record producer and songwriter Max Martin, whose chart-toppers have propelled many a boy band and diva to stardom.
There are pop hits such as Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop The Feeling! (2016) and powerful anthems like Katy Perry’s Roar (2013). The opening lines of these mainstream, radio-friendly hits are often met with knowing giggles from the 2,000-strong crowd.
At times, the songs are used in their original context. Since U Been Gone (2004), originally by American singer Kelly Clarkson, conveys Juliet’s sense of closure after her relationship with Romeo ends with his death.
However, the musical also transforms some tracks by single performers into duets, or sets them in a different context by giving the lyrics a new spin. For example, Britney Spears’ teen pop hit ...Baby One More Time (1998) is now a darker, rock-laced number. Sung by Australian actress Lorinda May Merrypor, it expresses Juliet’s confusion and despair at Romeo’s death.
Another song, That’s The Way It Is (1999), was initially a joyful ode to keeping the faith by Canadian balladeer Celine Dion. The musical turns it into a heartfelt duet by Juliet and Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway – played by Australian actress Amy Lehpamer – and it explores the difficulties of marriage and the importance of fighting for one’s happiness. Such reinterpretations breathe new life into otherwise dated tracks.
The musical, however, is too heavy on songs from the Backstreet Boys. Even for a fan who has travelled overseas to watch the American boy band in concert, the sheer number of their tunes featured felt like overkill.
Given the show’s modern sensibilities, it could have included more recent hits by Martin.
Perhaps something from American pop megastar Taylor Swift could have made the cut? After all, Martin co-wrote Shake It Off (2014), Blank Space (2014) and Bad Blood (2015).
Despite some dated songs, & Juliet has remixed Shakespeare’s most famous love story with some of pop’s most iconic numbers of the last three decades. More importantly, it has refreshed the tragic classic into an uplifting story of self-discovery and empowerment.
Where: Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue
When: Till Oct 15. Thursdays and Fridays, 8pm, Saturdays, 2 and 8pm, Sundays, 1 and 6.30pm
Admission: $68 to $238 via Marina Bay Sands (str.sg/io2H) and Sistic (str.sg/io2V). The Straits Times readers can get a 15 per cent discount at str.sg/iTav