& Juliet

Music and lyrics by Max Martin and friends, book by David West Read
Shaftesbury Theatre
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His name may not be familiar, but Swedish-born Max Martin should be one of the most famous people in the pop music industry.

Only Lennon and McCartney have composed more number one hits in history. Martin has written for stars such as Britney Spears, Katy Perry and The Backstreet Boys plus so many more.

As such, this puts the multimillionaire in prime position to create a juke-box musical based around his extensive back catalogue.

As a starting point for a plot, writer / director / co-producer Martin and book writer David West Read have chosen Romeo and Juliet.

Rather than merely rehashing the story for the modern age, the duo has had the novel idea of imagining what might have happened had Miriam Teak-Lee’s Juliet miraculously survived her overdose.

To spice things up a little, Oliver Tompsett makes an appearance as a William Shakespeare who appears to have come from the wrong Stratford, judging by his Essex accent, alongside Cassidy Jansen taking the part of a very frustrated Anne Hathaway.

This couple make regular interventions, fighting each other to drive the plot in what they see as the right direction and, in the latter case, injecting an element of girl power.

The plot itself is almost as weak as a series of limp and tacky jokes strewn across the 2½-hour evening.

Surrounded by a squealing entourage, Juliet heads for Paris (the city, they humorously emphasise, not the dead former admirer).

There, with strange echoes of the original, young girl instantly falls in love with Tim Mahendran as gay François, a man to whom her friend May (Arun Blair-Mangat) is obviously far better suited.

Just before the interval curtain, the contrivances step up a notch with the reappearance of Romeo, Jordan Luke Gage in the role of yet another miraculous escapee from the grave.

Most of the rest of the evening follows a relatively predictable pattern, with love and impending marriage on the cards for various parties including the newly reunited couple of François’s father and the Nurse, respectively David Bedella and Melanie La Barrie.

Nobody could fault the production qualities of a musical that clearly has one of the biggest budgets in town.

Set designer Soutra Gilmour and her costume colleague Paloma Young clearly have great fun at someone else’s expense, creating fantastic visual effects. These are enhanced by the choreography of Jennifer Webber, which generally mimics pop videos, hitting a height during the catchy “One More Try”.

Indeed, it could be suggested that, rather than selecting the plot as his main goal, Max Martin has created what looks like an extended music video and then tacked on a story at the end.

The best of the singing comes from the women, with Miriam Teak-Lee and Melanie La Barrie demonstrating strong soul-influenced voices, while Cassidy Jansen gets her moment of glory in the female duet “That’s the Way It Is”. Beyond that, most memorable scenes feature “F**kin' Perfect” and, for their strange deployment in the show, “I’m Not a Girl, Not yet a Woman” and “I Kissed a Girl”.

The likelihood is that Max Martin’s gigantic fan base will love the songs, delight in the slick dance moves and Howard Hudson’s light show and enjoy a series of in-jokes that will only be appreciated by those who know the songs and original performers inside out. The uninitiated will probably wonder what all the fuss is about.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher