Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet premiered on the stage in 1597. So, it’s been a minute – but since then, the tragedy of love, sex and death has been performed countless times, been celebrated in popular culture and has influenced the art of storytelling.

We all know how Romeo & Juliet ends. But at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, the spectacular production & Juliet turns 500 years of theatre on its head with a simple yet exciting premise: what if Juliet didn’t die, found a bunch of new friends, and hit the road to find her true self, dancing in a nightclub in Paris?

We’re just scratching the surface here, so let’s dive into five proper reasons to see this unique new interpretation of the Capulets and the Montagues – well, actually just one Capulet and zero Montagues.

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It’s a timely remix of the classic story

& Juliet begins with William Shakespeare (Rob Mills) presenting the ending of Romeo & Juliet to his cast right before opening night. Unfortunately, they hate it. Nobody more than his wife, Anne (Amy Lehpamer). She thinks Juliet (Lorinda May Merrypor) deserves a better ending, in the form of no ending at all.

The duelling scriptwriters lay out a life for Juliet that swings between empowering self-discovery and dramatic complications. Anne wants what’s best for Juliet, and Shakespeare himself can’t resist adding in a few twists. The result is a story that’s the best of both worlds. Having a good time is fun, but if you want a story to really come to life, you’ve got to follow Shakespeare’s lead, which means a few speed bumps on the road to a happy ending.

Queer characters have the spotlight

Juliet’s new besties are April (played by Lehpamer as Anne – why shouldn’t she insert herself into her husband’s play?) and the non-binary May (Jesse Dutlow). As Anne herself points out, Shakespeare’s work has always been about playing with gender roles, making May both a logical extension and a celebration of that tradition.

More importantly, May is no token. Not only do they get a string of big numbers – including the standout repurposing of Britney Spears’s I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman as an anthem of discovery – but their story remains central to & Juliet right through to the end. And as it’s a queer love story, there’s plenty of longing, pining and aching along the way.

A soundtrack of celebratory pop classics

Swedish pop maestro Max Martin has an enviable track record when it comes to producing pop hits. He’s responsible for classics from Britney Spears, Kesha, Katy Perry, The Backstreet Boys, Ariana Grande, Pink, and The Weeknd, among others. He’s the songwriter who created the soundtrack to a generation and now – & Juliet.

From the moment Juliet’s resurrection arrives to the tune of Spears’ …Baby One More Time, you know you’re in for something special. Some 30 hits from Martin’s songbook are weaved into & Juliet’s storyline. Plus, it’s a jukebox musical that begins with an actual jukebox on the stage – you’ve got to respect that.

It’s visually spectacular

& Juliet effortlessly shifts between stunning visual pyrotechnics for the big numbers to intimate lighting for the more personal tracks. It’s as at home with quiet yearning as it is with stage-stomping nightclub numbers featuring the whole cast moving as one.

If you needed to sum up the diverse cast’s performance in two words, it’d be “high energy”. Don’t be fooled by the casual opening, where the performers, showing off some fun costuming mixing Elizabethan substance with retro ’90s style, wander on stage and warm up with some off-the-cuff dance moves and friendly introductions. There are plenty of powerhouse performance numbers to come.

A heartfelt, inclusive fun night out (did we mention it’s queer?)

Even Shakespeare’s most serious dramas weren’t above the occasional gag, and that’s a tradition firmly embraced here. There are plenty of good jokes and bad puns – who knew The Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That Way was really about duelling creatives arguing over the ending to a play?

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Michael Cassel
Group.