Theatre Review: & Juliet is a complicated remix of a complicated relationship


You know the classic ‘boy meets girl’ tale – now witness the remix that flips the script on the conventional and gives Juliet the opportunity to be the leading lady of her own life’s story. What if Romeo & Juliet didn’t end with Juliet taking her own life? What if she embarked on a journey of self-discovery to rewrite her own story? This is & Juliet.

From the mind of the Emmy-Winning writer of Schitt’s Creek; David West Read, this production puts the ‘jukebox’ in jukebox musical. Overflowing with hits from the 90s right through to the 2010s, & Juliet pulls from the prolific portfolio of Max Martin – the genius songwriter/producer behind #1 hits from Britney Spears, Katy Perry, NSYNC and more. Guaranteed to get your feet tapping, the lineup of songs is a mixed bag of huge hits.

Let’s begin with the positives – the biggest being the leading presence of Lorinda May Merrypor as Juliet. I have been singing praises for Lorinda from the moment I walked out of Melbourne’s Regent Theatre. She’s a tour de force – delivering a phenomenal singing performance, an energetic dancing performance and a beautiful acting performance throughout the entire show. I was enamoured by her range of talents, lighting up the stage with her dazzling charisma every time she stepped into the spotlight. Pulling off this role is a huge task – it requires an abundance of strength and passion to sell us on the character’s braveness and determination as she embarks on this coming-of-age journey. Evidently she absolutely nails it. She has a beautiful voice and a vocal range that tells me she’s going to go far in this industry, especially if she’s putting on a performing masterclass like this.

Aside from Lorinda, there’s an ensemble of powerful singing performances that really make an impact. Casey Donovan is great as Angēlique, sharing some touching and aptly comedic moments with other characters while belting out some hits along the way. Then there’s the presence of Rob Mills (Shakespeare) and Amy Lehpamer (Anne), whose singing performance are fantastic… but whose characters don’t quite work.

On a technical level, the lighting, staging and production design are undeniably exquisite. Scenic Designer Soutra Gilmour utlises a great balance of grand and minimalistic sets that bring to life various locations from the romantic Parisian streets to the lavish Renaissance Ball. The giant props that drop in and out of the stage are intricately detailed and awe-inspiring. On top of this, the stage regularly transforms with surfaces that rise and rotate, as well as a ‘trap door’ platform that is cleverly used throughout – adding a layer of depth and creativity to the production. Meanwhile Howard Hudson’s use of lighting, especially during the bombastic musical numbers really establishes the vibe and beautifully sets the mood.

So, where did it all go wrong for me? My biggest issues lie in the story – it’s a little chaotic and has some very shaky narrative progression, especially in the second act. It’s at its best when focused solely on the character of Juliet finding her voice and standing up to those who wish to control her life. I liked every moment in which her emotional development is the centre of attention, but I found there was a constant desire to shift the focus with twists that detract from Juliet’s journey. Just when it looks like it’s going in a neat direction, it jarringly pivots away. One such subplot responsible for all the ‘pivoting’ has to do with Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway. Their entire integration into the production is unnecessary and only convolutes the narrative without adding much in return.

I won’t go far into talking about the presence of Romeo for the sake of spoiling the story, but I have to say that the quirky and overly silly portrayal of the character doesn’t work. He’s a larrikin who doesn’t fit within the context of the show. I have some thoughts regarding his inclusion detracting from the message of the production, but I’ll leave it at that to not spoil anything. All I’ll add is that I don’t place any blame on Blake Appelqvist’s performance – it’s moreso on the writing.

When it comes to the music, there’s no doubting the immense talent of Max Martin to put together a lineup of show-stopping hits. There’s a solid selection and blend of both upbeat and sombre tunes, with most songs serving their purpose in getting the party popping. However, there’s a few song choices that lacked the intended impact and felt oddly placed in the context of the story. Specifically, the inclusion of “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” makes for a grand, flashy musical number, but its placement is jarring and doesn’t make sense for the characters involved.

A jukebox musical works best when the meaning and relevance of a song in relation to the story is evident from the first line of dialogue. In here, I found myself having to decipher why a certain song was chosen one too many times. Again, I think the vast majority of songs work in terms of building excitement in the theatre, there’s just a few too many outliers.

I think it’s very relevant to touch on the progressiveness of the production since it’s such a huge thematic element. The notion of making this Juliet’s story is a fantastic change, creating something inherently unique and giving the character who has always played second-fiddle a strong voice. The sense of inclusion and representation is shared through characters like May (Jesse Dutlow), Anne Hathaway (Amy Lehpamer) and Angēlique (Casey Donovan). They each have their own cheer-worthy moments, though none of their subplots are more impactful than Juliet’s own progressive journey.

My reaction to & Juliet is full of highs and lows that have me torn. On one hand it features a strong ensemble with a perfect singing and acting performance from Lorinda May Merrypor. On the other hand the narrative is awkwardly paced and jarring, occasionally losing its focus on Juliet. On one hand the production design and lighting are brilliant. On the other hand the presence of Romeo detracts from Juliet’s progressive journey. Some music hits the spot, while some doesn’t. Some choreography is exceptional, while some scenes feel noticeably flat.

Nevertheless, treat yourself to a night filled with flashy costumes, poppy tunes and a new-and-improved Juliet before it leaves Australian shores. If you love the decade-spanning discography of Max Martin, this progressive party could be for you.


& Juliet is now playing at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne through to May 14th, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets, head HERE.

Reviewer attended on Thursday March 10th, 2023.

Photo credit: Daniel Boud