My first visit to this flashy jukebox musical inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was in December 2019, so it was great fun to revisit last night.
There have been some cast changes in the past month: Julius d’Silva now takes on the role of fromage-filled Lance, while Keala Settle swaps The Greatest Showman‘s bearded lady on screen for a UK stage debut.
As Jordan Luke Gage has departed down the road to open in Bonnie and Clyde, Romeo is now in the capable hands of rising star Tom Francis, who has his West End debut proper after leading the Hair concert last year.
Francis surely has a bright future on the evidence of what we’ve seen so far, including Rent at the Hope Mill in Manchester. He mines the absurdity in Romeo’s character as well as having a re-meet cute moment up on a swing seat with Juliet.
New to me, too, in this show are Alex Thomas Smith as May (a gender fluid performer in a similar role, and what a lovely turn throughout), and Oliver Tompsett as a petulant Shakespeare. He’s been with the musical since the start but was out injured the last time I was here.
In a show which is vibrant, colourful, inclusive, eye-popping, funny, and totally modern, the whole ensemble work incredibly hard. Max Martin (and friends)’s pop songs fit the narrative and serve to lighten the tone and push the story along.
What makes & Juliet a really good show is its ability to connect with its audience without taking itself too seriously. In Anne Hathaway (an energetic Cassidy Janson)’s rewrite of her husband’s play, it is very much ‘what if’ Juliet made her own choices.
As Anne pushes herself into Juliet”s story as ‘her other friend, April – April, May, and July-et’, Will sows conflict in love before, as he would have said himself, ‘all’s well that end’s well’.
Miriam Teak-Lee steals the show as Juliet. She is a tigress from the moment we find her at Romeo’s tomb, determined to have some fun. Scaled up from the play’s teenage leading lady to a more respectable twenties, she is out for a good time on her own terms.
Settle is simply exquisite as Angelique, Juliet’s Nurse. Her vocals are top-notch, her comedy timing flawless, and her chemistry with both original and new cast members is undeniable.
D’Silva’s Lance isn’t quite as showy as David Bedella‘s was, but he shines in both the ‘Bois Band’ sequence and in awkwardly connecting with the son (Tim Mahendran) whose lack of military ambition stumps him. He is also a winning team with Settle.
David West Read’s book is sharp, inclusive, and a lot of fun. Luke Sheppard‘s direction keeps everyone moving and showcases Soutra Gilmour‘s inventive set design with finesse. Andrzej Goulding‘s projections suggest a grimy London and a fun-packed Paris.
& Juliet is definitely one of the best musicals currently in the West End. It continues at the Shaftesbury Theatre – ticket details here.
Image credit: Johan Persson