When David West Read, the Emmy-winning writer of Schitt’s Creekpitched a new musical to songwriting guru Max Martin, responsible for mega hits like Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time,” he came up with the idea for overturn a Shakespearean classic.
Imagine this. We are in 1595. William Shakespeare has just finished Romeo and Juliet. As this epic piece is about to be performed for the first time, he explains the piece to his wife, Anne Hathaway. (No connection to the current actress.) But Hathaway has some notes and ideas on how to change the ending.
Hathaway asks, “What if Juliet doesn’t end her life?” What if she instead had a second chance on her own terms? »
Once they had Martin’s pop songs and West Read’s book, music supervisor and orchestrator manager Bill Sherman, Luke Sheppard and Emmy-winning choreographer Jennifer Weber signed on.
This is how the joyful, funny, smart and heartfelt new Broadway musical & Juliet has come to. “Max is so humble that most people don’t know that this person is the source of so much of the music we constantly hear around the world,” says West Read. “A bit like Shakespeare’s plays, I thought, ‘How could one person create all of this?'”
Additionally, West Read saw the story’s universality and timeless quality – similar to Martin’s music. “It was really interesting for me to think about telling a story about someone’s creative process, like Max, who is the Shakespeare of pop music,” he says. Plus, so much pop music is about young love and heartbreak. “So Juliette seemed like the perfect character to anchor all these songs,” he adds.
Plus, the idea of a second chance really resonated with West Read. “Juliette wasn’t very lucky the first time. It was a story of three days and then it was over, ”he observes. “There’s something about second chances that everyone can relate to, especially given what we’ve been through as a culture in recent years.”
& Juliet was born in England at the Opera House in Manchester, then moved to the West End and won three Olivier Awards. This Broadway production debuted last summer at the Princess of Wales Theater in Toronto, where it broke box office records. Now premiering at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, & Juliet opens November 17.
Executive produced on Broadway by Eva Price, the & Juliet The cast includes Lorna Courtney as Juliet, Betsy Wolfe as Anne Hathaway, Paulo Szot, Stark Sands, Justin David Sullivan, Melanie La Barrie, Ben Jackson Walker and Philippe Arroyo. Fifteen members of the 25-person company will make their Broadway debut with & Juliet.
“I hope people will remember that authenticity is the most important thing,” says Justin David Sullivan, who plays May. “If you’re not living your life your way or authentically yourself, things are so much harder.
“I hope that the public will leave with the feeling of being able to trust themselves, to own themselves, to be themselves and all their different facets”, adds Philippe Arroyo, who interprets the character of François.
A year ago, when she learned & JulietCourtney, whose Broadway credits include Dear Evan Hansen and the revival of West Side Story, auditioned and worked in a gymnasium. “I was reading the script with my best friend and her mother. And I remember his mother saying to me, ‘Lorna, you have to take this.’ I thought, ‘Yes. It’s the perfect story to tell, because so many people can relate to all of our characters. The show is so empowering and uplifting,” she says.
Courtney was also emboldened by Anne Hathaway’s story in & Juliet. “My character is a reflection of Anne’s character. We are parallel. She gives me a second chance and I find my voice through her magic of rewriting this story,” says Courtney. “So that makes my life renewed,” adds Wolfe. “I love that I’m trying, in a way, to rewrite Juliet’s narrative because I wish I had more agency myself.”
As Wolfe sees it, & Juliet audiences will get everything they expect from a pop concert, including pyrotechnics and glitter. “But what I think shocks people is that they are genuinely moved and transcended by an experience that only happens in live theater,” says Wolfe. “We transport people to this other place and give them hope.”