& Juliet (Musical) – Theatre Review

Max Martin. You may not be familiar with his name, but you will be with his music. Arguably one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and for many of us, the author to the soundtrack of our lives.

The best of his almost 30 years of work have been compiled and cleverly threaded into a musical with loose concepts of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, its book by David West Read, direction by Luke Sheppard, and choreography by Jennifer Weber.

The musical begs the question, “What if Juliet didn’t kill herself?”. The answer is a big and wonderful one filled with fantastic music, joy, and heart. And while the hits are all there including tunes from the Backstreet Boys, Katy Perry, and Britney Spears, just to name a few. What is even more incredible is that the music, although created many years prior, is so cohesive with the story, that even the uninitiated who didn’t grow up with these songs and aren’t familiar with all of them, will still have the best time at the theatre. And it’s easy to follow the narrative of what is the sweetest story.

David West Read’s writing has made sure that every main character has their own redemption arc and it’s brilliant. Max Martin tinkering with his lyrics and providing rearrangements to his songs makes everything in this production feel fresh and new, as if these songs were all created especially for this musical. Even though we all know this not the case.

An example of this is during, ‘I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman’ beautifully performed by Jesse Dutlow in the character of May. At first, we are familiar with the song, but the more that Dutlow sings on, the audience come to the realisation that it has been artfully transformed into a non-binary anthem. It’s genius, really.

While majority of the musical numbers existed years ago from Max Martin’s extensive catalogue, the exception would be ‘One More Try’ that Martin did create for this musical and co-wrote with non-other than underrated powerhouse, Jessie J. The song creates a moving pivotal moment for two of our main characters who are at the crossroads of a new beginning.

Even the sound design by Gareth Owen is so smart. The moment where Juliet puts on her headphones and the music fades out had audiences wide-eyed for things to come, and at this point, only the first number had been sung. If you weren’t already entranced by & Juliet after the opening number, this moment made sure to grab your attention and hold it tightly for the rest of the show.

Visually, & Juliet is stunning in every way. The scenic design by Soutra Gilmour marries feminine pastels with street art, it feels current and is conveniently very relevant to Melbourne. The costume designs by the talented Paloma Young are also very colourful, mixing period style designs with a modern twist, and then the unique Australian production touches by Australian Associate Costume Designer Jude Loxley in comparison to other productions around the world are lovely. I wish that some of these costumes were available for purchase because I am in love with Juliet’s shiny pink varsity jacket, complete with embroidery. No seriously, I want one!

If there ever was a perfect cast in an Australian production, it would be this one. Hayden Tee is a riot as Lance, a doting father that is now a widower, still longs for romantic love, and only wants the best for his son, Francois. We are so incredibly lucky to have enticed Tee back to our shores and play this role. His chemistry with both Casey Donovan’s Angelique and Yashith Fernando’s Francois is moving and believable. He would either have you cackling or in tears. A titan of musical theatre in every aspect, with every action masterful.

It has been a while since I have seen Amy Lehpamer in a musical production and to play the role of Anne is the best way for her to return to the theatre. Playing the strong and outspoken woman that Juliet is essentially modelled after, Lehpamer impresses with her wit, but even more so during the crucial moments. She left me in awe with her performance of Celine Dion’s ‘That’s The Way It Is’ that could rival Ms Dion’s vocals, truly. Her chemistry with Rob MillsWilliam Shakespeare and the way they bounce off each other is also fun to watch.

Rob Mills is great as William Shakespeare. He’s funny, he’s punny, and whenever he would take to the stage, you know he’s about to make you grin until your face hurts. A true comic natural, and the perfect combination of suave and silly, I cannot imagine anyone else in this role for the Australian cast. I’m so glad that he has embraced his career in musical theatre.

Casey Donovan is a superb, smart, and sexy dynamo as Juliet’s nurse, Angelique. More the fun auntie figure for Juliet, her vocals are renown for being fantastic and she doesn’t disappoint in this role. Her comedy is as powerful as her voice. Every moment where Donovan is on stage is such a delight to the point where you didn’t ever really want her to leave.

Blake Appelqvist is humour personified as the heartfelt and handsome but extremely dopey and very attractive Romeo. The vocal runs that Appelqvist effortlessly showcase are second to none, and every moment witnessing Appelqvist’s Romeo is a gift that left me wanting more. Admittedly, I have loved everything I have seen them in, so I’m at a point where I don’t think there’s anything Appleqvist can’t do.

Jesse Dutlow is phenomenal as May. Providing the more deep and emotional parts of the production, and after witnessing Dutlow’s professional debut only last year, I dare say that I am so proud of Dutlow. It’s been an honour to witness the growth that they have gone through in only a few months with their career, and even more so with their character in this production. May is the beating heart of this story and Dutlow has carefully entwined with their character to a place where I believe they cannot exist without the other. Dutlow has brought something personal into their character and you can feel it in every inch of you when watching them unfold. This isn’t just a character Dutlow is portraying, the pain and all that emotion you see on stage is real, and they mean it with all of their heart.

It’s hard to believe that this is Yashith Fernando’s professional debut. His vocal tones and infectious charisma are as impressive as they are enviable. As Francois, he skilfully executes the role of a bashful uncertain young man that just wants to do right by his father. A character with so much love to give but is not quite sure where to place it. And then Juliet injects confidence in him and we witness the transformation of a quiet insecure character into an upstanding and proud one with a big booming heart. It’s hard not to love Fernando’s Francois. Every moment he is on stage, you can tell he is living his best life. It is a wonder how we’re only coming to know of him now, but let me tell you, Yashith Fernando is a name that will be crucial to the future of Australian theatre, and I am excited for what may come in his career. A true gem of this production in every word.

Lorinda May Merrypor is not a name I was familiar with, but after seeing her slay the role of Juliet, it is not a name that I am going to forget anytime soon. Her vocals are gorgeous, her character and journey, both are relatable. By the end, she inspired the entire audience in Melbourne’s Regent Theatre to get up on their feet and cheer her on.

Her initial song ‘Baby One More Time’ had me stunned, convinced that this show and her casting was something special. But when Merrypor was singing Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’, I was in tears (and I am again writing this). As a massive KatyCat (Katy Perry fan), with Katy Perry playing an important role in my life, helping my now husband propose to me on stage in Auckland back in 2018, I admittedly don’t often enjoy covers of her songs. But Merrypor dynamically dives deep into Martin’s work, taking the reins of this musical, and makes all the songs, including Perry’s songs, her own. Merrypor is an absolute star.

Everyone including the ensemble are solid. From Sarah Murr’s facial expressions as Lady Capulet, Sean Sinclair’s hilarious exaggerated French accent, Jordan Koulos’ cheers in support of female empowerment, Jacob Rozario’s vivacious sass, to Coby Njoroge’s sick flips. I even adored Jade Delmiguez, Giorgia Kennedy and Imani Williams’ perfect harmonies. In &Juliet, nobody outshines the other. The entire cast shine bright together.

This is the perfect musical if I ever saw one. & Juliet will be inspiring and moving to many, and I am so grateful that it exists. It’s crazy how all these songs that I grew up with have their own unique stories and meanings for different people. Perhaps you played these songs in the car and sung them at the top of your lungs on a road trip, maybe they were the songs you had on repeat at a past birthday party, and some of them you may have even played at a wedding. It’s profound how Max Martin’s music marries so beautifully with the story of this musical, celebrating his career, celebrating life, celebrating the world right now, and combining to create the joy and magic that is & Juliet.

I can’t imagine anyone not liking this production and I’m already hoping for an encore season in Melbourne. And while Max Martin’s music is so widely appreciated and loved (thank-you for sharing your music with the world), everything still feels so sincere and personal. I found myself sitting there in that theatre with my heart so full, and all I could think about was how I felt this musical was made just for me.

Melbourne, this is your next obsession! & Juliet is a pure prolific pop perfection musical masterpiece.

& Juliet is exclusive in Australia to Melbourne and is currently playing for a strictly limited season at the Regent Theatre until May 14th.
For more information and ticketing, visit:

Photography by Daniel Boud.

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