The premiere for this brand new juxebox musical is just around the corner and we couldn’t be more excited! & Juliet officially opens in Manchester on the 10th September for a limited run, before transferring to the West End. It’s set to be a huge hit with anyone familiar with Swedish songwriter Max Martin’s hits (which is probably just about everyone given he’s written for all the biggest stars from Britney to Backstreet Boys). We were lucky enough to catch up with the & Juliet cast to get all the latest info and find out how they’re feeling about being part of something so momentous.
& Juliet shakes things up, reimagining the ending of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. In the final scene as she prepares to take her life for her beloved Romeo, Juliet puts down the dagger. She wonders what if this is just the beginning? What if she can actually get over Romeo and go out and live her life? She then embarks on a whirlwind adventure with friends to Paris, finding there’s much more fun when living by your own rules.
Miriam-Teak Lee (Hamilton) plays the leading lady, joined by Jordan Luke Gage (Bat Out of Hell) as Romeo. Joining them is Oliver Tompsett (Kinky Boots) and Cassidy Janson (Beautiful) who star as Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway who together rewrite the ending to this famous tragedy.
We first spoke to Arun Blair-Mangat and Tim Mahendran who play May and Francois respectively. The actors opened up about what it’s like to star in a fresh never-before-seen musical and just how involved Max Martin is.
Can you tell me about your roles?
Arun: I play ‘May’ who is a gay, gender queer character who joins Juliet on her trip to France. I compare it to a modern interpretation of how men played women in Shakepeare’s plays at the time.
Tim: Essentially, the show is about four women getting what they want in the end after learning about themselves, and May is one of them. I play ‘Francois’ who is a shy boy Juliet meets in France. He’s surpressed by his father, lives alone in a castle and attends balls. Then all of a sudden he meets these girls and starts to come to terms with who he is.
Arun: He’s a bit like a male version of a ‘damsel in distress’ – living alone in the castle. Kind of like Rapunzel of Jasmine for example.
How did you find playing these brand new characters and being part of this production?
Tim: It’s great. The beautiful thing about the eight main characters is that they’re all relatable.
Arun: They’re all about breaking stigmas and representing someone. The cast is incredibly diverse and it’s one of the most exciting productions to be a part of!
Tim: We’ve been really lucky. The creative team are also really accommodating. They allow you to ad-lib and have lots of input. It actually hit me not long ago that all the adjustments and input we’re doing will be part of this show, which may go on to have revivals in the future. It’s like being part of history.
Arun: The script is also hilarious! One minute you’re crying and then the next you’re crying with laughter! It’s all about making people have a good time and feeling like they’re invited to be part of the show, not just spectators.
Tim: We want the audience to be really engaged – to be leaning in and feeling part of it all.
Arun: It’s a great balance of being uplifting and entertaining, and being comical but having important themes like breaking stigmas. It’s a comedy at heart but has touching moments.
Why did you decide to premiere the musical in Manchester?
Tim: Manchester has a huge theatre culture, one of the best in the UK. It has a history of trialling shows, so it’s the perfect place for & Juliet to debut. We’re excited to show it to everyone. We want to create the buzz before going to the West End too, which will be my West End debut!
Arun: In the first month, we trial out parts like the timing of jokes for example and the responses of the audience. But there’s something exciting about showing it in is raw, authentic form to audiences so we can’t wait to show it to Manchester!
And finally, how involved was Max Martin (pictured below) in creating the show?
Tim: Really involved! The idea came from his list of songs, which were used to create the story. He’s been at the workshops and throughout rehearsals. He’ll be at the show too!
Next, we spoke with Melanie La Barrie and two-time Olivier Award-winning David Bedella. The pair play on stage lovers ‘Nurse’ and ‘Lance’, the father of Francois.
How do you find working with Max Martin?
David: It’s great. He’s your biggest cheerleader. & Juliet all started with his music, where a bunch of us performed in front of him. He’s very involved with the music part of it all. He’s also really into the songs being character-led. It’s amazing how his songs come together with the script and produce this amazing story.
Have there been many changes to the song list?
David: Yes absolutely! The production has been ongoing for about 6-7 years. I’ve seen songs come and go.
Can you tell me your favourite part of about your role?
Melanie: Our characters (David and I) are very much in love with each other. This is a brand new experience for me. In all my other roles, I’ve always played someone funny – but never had a love interest.
David: I just can’t believe how much we laugh together. I actually have to stop myself from laughing. I have to do a French accent – but an over the top one like a caricature and I just laugh all the time.
Melanie: I think the fun side comes across to audience – if we’re really comfortable then the audience will be. My favourite part of the show is our musical number to ‘Teenage Dream’/’Break Free’. It’s so much fun and busy on set, and we’re doing things that like young people so we’re out of breath! It’s just a great.
David: I always feel like it’s a great performance when you’re panting and literally out of breath at the end of it!
And what do you think is so special about & Juliet?
Melanie: The show is like a spectacle. The team really took time and effort to put their heart into it and add all the amazing details. I think this reflects life. Life is noisy and busy and stressful, but there’s humans at the heart of it making it spectacular. That’s what people will fall in love with.
David: That’s what I was going to say – it’s a spectacle! It’s about the fact that everyone is trying to get through life and its struggles, and also trying to find love!
Don’t miss out on seeing history in the making as the fabulous musical makes its debut. Tickets are still available to see & Juliet in Manchester, and in the West End.