Photos – Daniel Boud

The latest of the ‘Jukebox Musicals’ to hit Sydney uses a bevvy of very commercial hit pop songs to tell the tongue in cheek story of what might have happened to Shakespeare’s Juliet after Romeo. Yes, she doesn’t die this time around, but gets to discover there’s more to life than a three-day fling with a smooth-talking boy.

Written by the acclaimed writer of Schitt’s Creek, David West Read, it picked up a slew of Olivier Awards on the West End. And it’s easy to see why. For fans of that Tina Turner song in Schitt’s Creek will see the same influence in the structure of this show. The great drawback of many jukebox shows is often the groan of recognition as another number is inappropriately crowbarred into a somewhat thin plotline. But under the helm of West Read the lyrics are carefully and appropriately distributed to the correct character at the perfect moment and so the moments of recognition became moments of ‘oh yes – perfect’ as opposed to ‘oh seriously?” Theres a whole lot more fun and a lot less cringe. And once the audience relaxes into it, the second act becomes even stronger than the first – a rare achievement for any musical really.

The staging and concert style lighting are suitably spectacular and while the choreography is a little trite, it is executed with great energy and precision. And while the plot is mostly a great excuse to relive some great pop anthems dressed up in faux Elizabethan party frocks, the fact that these songs are all from one superstar hit maker Max Martin lends the collection a solid gold pop pedigree that further reinforces its credibility! If you’ve sung along to Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Katy Perry and The Backstreet Boys, then you’ve sung along to Max Martin and you will do so again in this production. The music is infectious in all the right ways and has a heartfelt yearning that ensured its pop success in much the same way as those Disney princess songs achieve as they wish for lives with something more.  

The cast are vocally powerful. It’s always great to hear Casey Donovan’s soaring vocal prowess, and it’s certainly a hoot to envisage Rob Mills as the Bard himself. Lorinda May Merrypor as Juliet is a wonderful heroine for our times with a real vocal command of the material. Jesse Dutlow plays May with a convincing sensitivity and Yashith Fernando turns in some beautiful work as Francois. Theirs are two of the best voices in the show. Their duet in Act 2 is a real highlight. And Blake Appelqvist’s Romeo is deliciously vacuous and funny and sings up a storm. But it is Amy Lehpamer who binds it all together with real heart and style as Anne Hathaway. Her rich beautiful voice is as warm as honey and her acting would be at home in any real Shakespeare company. She carries most of the thematic dialogue of the piece and manages to keep it light and funny while still landing the messaging with commitment and warmth. Certainly, the highlight of the production for this reviewer.

Musically you won’t be disappointed. The company can vocally carry these well-known anthems satisfyingly. The band are also great – tight and energetic, and it’s wonderful to see the musicians getting a bow in the curtain call. And very well deserved. 

It might have been inspired by Shakespeare, but don’t expect high art here. However, do expect to be thoroughly entertained. It’s a cleverly put together show with some unexpected credibility behind both the music and the text. Most of all, it is a heck of a lot of fun and if you didn’t get in to see Ms Swift recently, this may well fulfill your pop diva cravings in a very satisfying way. It knows what it is – heck they even have a jukebox on the stage – but they know how to do it well. There’s lots of spectacle, lots of hits and lots of talent all packaged up into a story with a lovely contemporary message despite its Elizabethan inspiration. In short, it’s a surprising night out and the roars of joy from the audience signals its potential to surpass your jukebox musical expectations.

Event details

Michael Cassell Group in association with MTM/Leyline presents
Title of show
music and lyrics Max Martin | book David West Read

Director Luke Sheppard

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre | 55 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont NSW
Dates: 27 February 2024 – 2 June 2024

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