Shakespeare to the Max!

Shakespeare to the Max!
Image: Blake Appelqvist as Romeo in &JULIET. Photo by Daniel Boud

Of Shakespeare’s 38 or so plays, it is arguable that Romeo & Juliet is the best known, most frequently produced, and has had more interpretations than possibly any other literary work ever. So to describe a new re-imagining of the play as bold and unique would be a brave claim, yet, given audience and critical reception, &Juliet has every right to make that claim and more. 

Already having garnered a slew of awards and sold out shows globally, &Juliet is about to head to Sydney, and the anticipation is palpable. 

Lorinda May Merrypor in &JULIET, original Australian cast. Photo by Daniel Boud

With a book by Emmy-winning writer of the quirky comedy series, Schitt’s Creek, and featuring the repurposed songs from phenomenal pop-hit guru, Max Martin, the success of &Juliet is virtually guaranteed. However, the show itself may not be as predictable as you think. 

The premise works backwards from the unhappy ending of Shakespeare’s tale and asks: what if Juliet didn’t drink the vial of poison? What if, instead of giving her life for Romeo, she took it back and lived it herself on her on terms? 

It’s a story for now, and it explores themes of independence, reawakening, identity and love in all its glory and complexity. 

Amy Lehpamer and Rob Mills in &JULIET, original Australian cast. Photo by Daniel Boud

“The love that you can have for someone else, you can also have for yourself, you can also have for your friends, for your family. It sort of puts other versions of love up on the same pedestal as romantic love,” explains Blake Appelqvist, who plays Romeo in the Australian production of &Juliet. “That’s a kind of Romeo I can see for a modern day and it’s one that I want to promote for young people or anyone who’s questioning love.”

Appelqvist is hot property in musical theatre world, having had terrific reviews for their (Appelqvist identifies as non-binary) performances in myriad shows including Bonnie & Clyde, Frozen, Fan Girls, Kinky Boots, Priscilla:The Musical,  and The Lovers. 

Hayden Tee in &JULIET, original Australian cast. Photo by Daniel Boud

“I really love doing original work or new work, and non-traditional work, particularly things that are written by Australian composers and that have been workshopped here. I was fortunate enough to do a few of the workshops of Laura Murphy’s The Lovers,” says Appelqvist. 

Interestingly, The Lovers is another musical that viewed Shakespeare (in this case, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) through a different lens. 

“I think [Shakespeare] really does lend itself to musical theatre — and particularly, actually, to pop music — in that Shakespeare plays are meant to be performed live, they’re meant to be received in the flesh, offline, and same with pop music. Both Shakespeare and pop music, they live in the same world —elevated truth.”

&JULIET, original Australian cast. Photo by Daniel Boud

Appelqvist has never performed a Shakespeare play in its original form, but they are very keen to. With regard to &Juliet, they don’t believe you need to be a fan or have a thorough knowledge of Shakespeare to enjoy it, but it also won’t offend you if you are a fan. 

“It really is for everyone. If you’re someone who loves the Bard and has studied all of Shakespeare’s plays, and are well acquainted with the style of writing, it is for you, you’re gonna find a lot of easter eggs in our show. But also, if you’re a complete newbie to Shakespeare, have never read a play, don’t understand the hype, or are just curious about what a musical version or a twist on a play could be, it’s also the show for you.”

Casey Donovan in &JULIET, original Australian cast. Photo by Daniel Boud

One of the biggest hype factors of this musical is the inclusion of some of the greatest pop hits of the last three decades, penned by Swedish super songwriter/producer, Max Martin. Despite their strong association with pop stars such as Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry among many other major stars, the songs fit seamlessly into the plot of &Juliet.

“It really doesn’t feel like a jukebox musical by the way that the scenes have been so cleverly written around the songs. And it’s also a testament to the master songwriter that is Max Martin,” says Appelqvist. 

The Australian cast for &Juliet is representative of the platinum level talent we have here.  Lorinda May Merrypor has blown audiences away with her performance as Juliet; Rob Mills is excellent as Shakespeare, while Amy Lehpamer comes close to upstaging him as Anne Hathaway. Casey Donovan is gold in the role of Angelique and Hayden Tee as Lance adds a touch esteem. 


Jesse Dutlow in &JULIET, original Australian cast. Photo by Daniel Boud

And of course, the wonderful Appelqvist as Romeo.

“I view Romeo as a hopeful romantic whose heart and mind are stuck in the original play, and I think I’d also describe him as a douchebag with a heart of gold,” says Appelqvist, describing how they’ve approached the famous character. “I think in this version, in &Juliet … he’s challenged to both grow in the pursuit of her, but also in the pursuit of him finding himself, in the way that she is also finding herself, [but] separate from each other.”

Appelqvist invites everyone to experience this reinvention of an all-time classic.

“If you’re wanting something new and fresh or something that’s a vibrant twist on a love story, or if you’re bored of the same old stories and characters, I think this is the perfect show for you.”

February 27 – April 28

Sydney Lyric Theatre, 55 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont

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