Toronto cast of ‘& Juliet’ on bringing a pop twist to an old tale

By Stella Acquisto

High-energy musical & Juliet, written by a Torontonian who’s had a hand in a beloved hit TV series, puts a modern pop twist on the classic story of Romeo & Juliet.

The show is currently playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre. “It feels as if it’s one big pop-rock concert with pyro and confetti,” said star Lorna Courtney. “It’s a blessing to be able to do this in this every night.”

The play is a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s story. It works through what would have happened if the writer had shown his play to his wife, Anne Hathaway, and taken her critique.

“Anne Hathaway steps in and suggests that Juliet does not kill herself at the end of the story, and that’s how our story begins,” explained Stark Sands, who plays Shakespeare.

Betsy Wolfe, who plays Anne, thinks the premise is a great concept. “What if she decides not to kill herself? What if she, though adversity, decides for a chance at a different kind of a life?” she said. “When I read it, it struck me this is the story I want to tell.”

The story was written by Torontonian David West Read, writer and executive producer for Schitt’s Creek, and it was inspired by music from Max Martin, who wrote songs for Brittney Spears and the Backstreet Boys.

“I was asked if I wanted to pitch on a Max Martin musical. I had to look up who Max Martin was, and realized he had written all of my favourite pop songs,” said Read.

He adds that Martin and Shakespeare share certain traits. “He was actually a pop writer of his own time,” Read said of Shakespeare. “He was a writer for the masses. So, combining Max and Shakespeare kind of made sense.”

The musical has renditions of a number of hit pop songs like Britney Spears’s “Baby One More Time” and Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.”

“This show is a real mix of theatre and pop concert,” said Jennifer Webber, & Juliet‘s choreographer. “It’s so exciting to be able to use a really contemporary language to tell a really amazing story to this amazing music.”

Brandon Antonio is from the Toronto area and he plays the character Richard. He’s said working on home soil has been a great experience. “Not only do I get to feel settled but my family and friends get to see it.”

The play is on now, and its last performance is scheduled for August 14. “It’s about so much more than Juliet having a second chance at life, it’s about everyone on the stage having a second chance to love, and to fall in love with each other,” director Luke Sheppard said. “The only way I can describe it is you have to come and witness it.”

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