The 2 younger ladies sitting immediately in entrance of this critic have been having the most effective time at Broadway musical & Juliet (Stephen Sondheim Theatre, booking to May 28, 2023)—seat-bopping all through, and smiling delightedly. The 2 folks behind loudly beheld that it was the worst factor they’d seen on stage in a very long time. In between each events, this critic sat, feeling the contrasting passions of each.
If you need a stage present that wears its admirably progressive politics proudly, if not convincingly, and includes a panoply of pop songs whose tunes are instantly acquainted—by five-time Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer Max Martin—then that is the present for you. This critic discovered it principally meh, regardless of having each Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Katy Perry, and Justin Timberlake bone in his physique fortunately tweaked. The story felt flimsy and complicated, the singing high-quality however not wowing—however the delighted applause and whoops round him made it obvious others have been shopping for into & Juliet very in another way.
The pop songs you recognize—together with “Since U Been Gone,” “I Kissed a Woman,” and “All people (Backstreet’s Again)”—are plugged, typically cleverly, typically just-because-OK?, into the evolution of the musical’s double-headed plot. The primary story is what if Juliet (Lorna Courtney) had not died after she and Romeo (Daniel J. Maldonado was standing in for Ben Jackson Walker on the efficiency this critic noticed) imbibed poison and a sleeping potion in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; what if she had woken up and carried on with the remainder of her life? The story inside a narrative is that that is the brainchild of Anne Hathaway (Betsy Wolfe), Shakespeare’s (Stark Sands) oft-ignored spouse.
The musical proposes it’s not simply historical past that has disregarded Anne, however Shakespeare himself. She tries to take over the path and writing of the play, and observes the unfolding motion with him. So, will Juliet discover happiness and private liberation, and may the Shakespeares discover artistic success, mutual respect, and rediscovered love? The musical veers clankily between taking these questions very severely certainly, and yawning at them like-totally-over-it.
& Juliet gained a shedload of awards in London, and positively the music and dancing are insistently dazzling. Its greatest components are rooted in humor—its offhand jokes, asides, gestural feints and side-eye. (One returned-to joke about Anne Hathaway is very humorous.) It additionally strains between being juvenile and foolish, and eager to Say One thing. Juliet is given a giant go-girl liberation narrative, with the slight drawback that she by no means appears that oppressed within the first place. Romeo is offered as extra a useless doofus than misogynist totally deserving to reap no matter humiliation is coming his means.
Her pal Might (Justin David Sullivan), a non-binary character whose massive tune is “I’m Not a Woman, Not But a Girl,” options the performer singing “I’m not a lady” repeatedly—a plaintive negation that’s not elaborated on within the character themselves. Might can be given a romance storyline with François (Philippe Arroyo) missing in any chemistry. It’s nice, and overdue, to characteristic various characters on stage—and powerful messages round id are stitched into this script. However range ought to be about greater than making clear what a personality is—consideration and care ought to be paid to who they’re, or it could really feel like un-nuanced box-ticking. Might deserves extra and higher in & Juliet.
Juliet additionally kinda likes François, and so a love triangle varieties, however by no means actually sparks into life. His dad Lance (Paulo Szot) is meant to be a gruff, macho tyrant, however he and Juliet’s nurse Angélique (Melanie La Barrie, fantastic) share a connection and chemistry, and so his need that François be a “actual man” dissipates when he realizes that lurve is lurve. Waddyaknow, the massive man is mostly a pussycat, who simply desires to bop.
As does Juliet. The musical—with a neat twist for the top of act one—actually quantities to her stomping round for 2 and a half hours in a self-propelling strop about… nicely, what precisely? Spoiler alert: she might nicely certainly come to the (wonderful) conclusion that she doesn’t need or must be with any man. However not one of the males round her arouse a lot emotion in any respect, her mother and father appear terrible however are usually not on stage that a lot, and so the entire present appears compelled and overwrought because it searches for her future. Wherever she finally ends up, she has no seen opposition to advantage her grand odyssey of “I’m-doing-this-my-way.”
& Juliet is aware of what it desires to say. It is aware of its massive message, however its characters really feel cartoonish delivering it. Snack as heartily as you need on the poppy enjoyable of & Juliet—but in addition be ready to depart feeling such as you haven’t actually dented your urge for food.