Hit-Maker Max Martin’s Musical Jukebox Roars for the Balcony


What if Juliette had lived? What if she hadn’t given her 14 year life for a wild boy she barely knew? What if she hadn’t let brash youthful narcissism warped by patriarchy and male violence take precedence over her better judgment and lived a full, happy, maybe even quiet life into what passed for age? adult in Verona in the 14th century.

Directed by Luke Sheppard and choreographed by Jennifer Weber, & Juliet, the new musical jukebox of songs written by super-producer Max Martin (“and his friends”, as the credits said), with a book of Schitt’s Creek writer David West Read, offers an answer to all of these questions, though “calmness” never quite enters the equation. No, if Juliet had lived, this musical, which opens tonight on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, suggests she and her pals would spend much of their time singing empowerment ballads and giving talks within earshot of pride, identity and other important takeaways from the 21st century.

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Maybe, we’re left thinking, these kids really do have a future – maybe they’ll grow up and be in the much better Six.

It’s not that & Juliet is not pleasant – it is not. Somewhere beneath the bombastic and rehearsed and overworked approach from minute one is a sweet (rather) and smart (rather) tale that gives voice to the marginalized and, not incidentally, provides fans of Britney Spears’ music, Backstreet Boys, Katy Perry, Kesha, Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande, Bon Jovi, Celine Dion, Pink and Justin Timberlake have the chance to hear their favorite songs in a musical that does not hide its identity: A jukebox occupies very early the place of honor on the board.

These songs, not by chance, have something, or someone, in common: Martin, the superproducer whose tireless approach to constructing anthems and ballads and upbeat tunes of defiance and self- proclamation gave careers to many superstars and the voice to countless youthful fans.

That Martin’s productions use an easily marketable – but not so easily copied – formula of relatively simple melodies, lyrics with lots of repetition, a resolute message and not too many nuances, and a sense of dramatic construction that sprints to halfway and continues – is no secret to anyone who has heard some of his successes. in other words, all sentient creatures within earshot of a radio, television, or streaming service. Taken on their own, songs such as Spear’s “Since U Been Gone” and “Baby One More Time,” Perry’s “Roar” and “I Kissed a Girl” make good company and, at best (as have lived millions of fans) a kind of generational soundtrack. To dispute their success would be as grumpy as it is stupid.

& Juliet

Stark Sands, Betsy Wolfe (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

But presented together, one after the other, the songs can go from inspiring to intimidating in record time. And they do.

Bridging the various songs Martin wrote, Read’s book is a pastiche that shows very little of the subversive side that Read and his fellow writers brought. Schitt’s Creek. Here Read has fashioned a kind of educational guide to feminism, self-destiny, empowerment and chosen identity, newsworthy topics all but here rendered with the subtlety of a cheering rally to college.

The premise is: Will Shakespeare (Stark Sands) and his very dissatisfied and angry wife Anne Hathaway (Betsy Wolfe) are debating the Bard’s latest play, Romeo and Juliet. Anne insists on trying to rewrite her plan to let Juliette live, to take the initiative in her life and to free herself from the orbit of a wild and irresponsible young man and from the patriarchy itself.

Anne immediately sets out to free Juliette (Lorna Courtney) and some Verona pals, sending them to the more liberated (and fun) Paris. First stop: A nightclub, where one of his buddies, the non-binary May (Justin David Sullivan) literally bumps into a François (Philippe Arroyo), a confused young man dominated by his father who thinks he has no eyes only for Juliette. The situation sends May into what seems like an over-the-top emotional meltdown, leading to May’s performance of Spears’ “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” – an initially smart choice that soon feels, like so many others. things here, loaded with weight.

Will and Anne repeatedly go to the facts, sometimes one by one, to better enact a plot or romance behind the backs of his writing partner who might not quite approve. That way, we got Juliet and Co.’s magical aging from young teens to a more palatable 21st century twenties, and, in a big first-curtain reveal – stop reading here to avoid spoilers, or if you don’t haven’t already figured it out – the return of Romeo (during the performance of criticism, a game and Daniel Maldonado who went bankrupt replacing Ben Jackson Walker), who Will decided wasn’t really dead after everything.

Also swirling around Paris is Juliette’s nurse, Angélique (Mélanie La Barrie), who has a secret romantic past with François’ stern father, Lance (Paulo Szot, the opera star using his baritone effectively and often comically ).

All that star-crossing plays out to Soutra Gilmour’s flashy and quite clever set design – much of it made up of the “Romeo” lacking a large marquee-style panel. Paloma Young’s costume design features the expected blend of centuries past and present, stopping before the breathtaking dazzle of the Six finery. Howard Hudson’s lighting design, Gareth Owen’s sound design, and Andrzej Goulding’s video and projection design are all top notch.

The cast, certainly not without charm, was tasked with launching their performances to the heights – the balconies, so to speak – and the aggression can grate (La Barrie, as a nurse, could reduce the schtick and leave the accent falling on her beautiful singing voice). Wolfe, another terrific vocalist, recites her dialogue with relentless archi, and Sullivan, as the non-binary May, conveys a sweetness that is too often undermined by melodrama. Only Sands, as Shakespeare, and, in particular, the very impressive Courtney as the little girl who is no longer lost, always finds the right balance between silliness and common sense.

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