& Julia is exciting. “You really don't get stories like that on stage. It's different," says lead actress Miriam-Teak Lee, who plays Julia.
And she's right. Not only is this a show brought to the stage by musical genius Max Martin (think Domino, Problem, Since U Been Gone), but it also ushers in a whole new world for queer stage performance, where stories about gender and sexual identity have been ignored. they are not an afterthought or an unexplored side moment, but front and center.
From queerness to non-binary identity to pansexuality, it's all here in the story of what would happen if Juliet from Romeo and Juliet chose not to die for the love of one man. That's right, it's a Shakespeare remix with Juliet taking over.
In an exclusive interview, we spoke with Miriam-Teak Lee (Juliet), Arun Blair-Mangat (May), Tim Mahendran (François) and David West Read (author) about working with chart-topping Max Martin and stars like Britney Spears think about it, how they're rediscovering their music for new audiences, and how & Juliet is helping to end years of the LGBTQ community's erasure from mainstream music narratives.
Romeo who? Giving Julia her own voice must be the most freeing feeling ever?
Miriam:[Laughs] That's right. I never thought I would be in a situation like this, it's literally like a dream. Performing these pop songs in a West End concert with a new concept is like breathing new life into these amazing songs. I literally can't believe it every day.
a race:I've been telling people it's the perfect blend of a pop concert and a musical. I don't think I've ever been a part of a show that dared to combine them and create this epic, interactive experience. The creative team did a great job figuring this out, as I didn't know what it was going to be like when I read it two years ago. I thought we were going the theater route, but it actually blends the theater and concert pop genres to perfection.
Timo:This is a new twist on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It's about Julia waking up, deciding not to kill herself and choosing to live her life. It's her journey of what would happen next. You meet a variety of characters, including the original story's nurse, May, and they embark on the journey of a lifetime to Paris... and everything builds from there.
Do you think the break with the traditional model of musical theater is what's driving people crazy about it?
Timo:There are moments in the show where people think they're at a pop concert. It's the way we set it up, the lighting, and when people like Arun sing like May I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman, it's a breathtaking moment. Then reverse that when we sing the Backstreet Boys and in the audience the pop concert lights are on too.
a race:We are constantly breaking the fourth wall and inviting the audience in. They are not spectators, they are players like us, so everyone can celebrate. There are moments of comedy and genuine emotional brilliance.
& Julia contains a main character who questions her gender identity and another who questions her identity. How important is the inclusion of May and François in the series?
Davi:May is an essential character in & Juliet. When putting this show together in 2019, it was very important to me that our cast of characters reflect as much as possible the diversity of the world around us, including gender, age, body type, ethnicity and sexual orientation. And since the original work "Romeo and Juliet" is about rebelling against the rules of a rigidly divided society and questioning identities ("What's a name?"), it seemed like an obvious extension that Juliet would find a new boyfriend to write about. defined by traditional labels. Of course, there are many great musicals that depict non-heterosexual relationships and newer musicals that are about gender and sexual fluidity, but in most cases it's the theme of the musical. With & Juliet, I wanted to present a non-binary character whose love story is treated with the same weight and attention as other love stories, without being the sole focus of the series.
Timo:I had never played a role like this before. In many of the interviews, François discovered who he is. He's a potential love interest for Juliet, but he knows May and it's not like he's gay... he's pansexual. He is head over heels in love when they first meet on the dance floor. It's a split second, but there's something. There's this whole proposal scene and he and May spend this time alone and there's this connection. Overwhelmed by his father, François organizes these parties to ask him to marry him. François wants to get married, but when he meets May, he really wants to. It's about saying it's not what I want, it's this person. I'm straight, and my dad said to me after the show, "Have I ever made you feel this way?" He hadn't, but he said it was thought-provoking. People of our generation are not only seeing and accepting who they are, which is a gift in itself, but I hope it inspires the older generation and gives them a glimpse of what life is like now, what it was like a long time ago. years ago.
Talking about identity beyond gay and straight or your birth gender.
a race:It's so evolved and far beyond anything I've seen before. I'm looking at the West End tapestry with this one, everyone's talking about Jamie, come on! Being with them is amazing.
May sings I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman, made famous by Britney Spears. What do you think she would have thought of the song being given new life on the show?
Davi:hope she likes it It's a beautiful arrangement, performed with such integrity by Arun Blair-Mangat, and while it's context-heavy considering who this character is and where he's been on his journey, I think it's true to the original spirit while remaining true to the music; It's still basically about a young man trying to figure out how to make it in the world and struggling with self-definition.
miriam: People resonate with May's story a lot. The use of the song Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman is moving and powerful as May tries to figure out who she is and Juliet reassures her that she doesn't need to find a title, she needs to be who she wants to be. and that's absolutely OK.
What do you hope the reception of this story will bring to those who have had similar experiences?
Davi:I hope the inclusion of this story appeals to people with different backgrounds. As Juliet and May are the creations of Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway, they have an ambitious quality. They reflect Anne's hope for a society where people are freer in their choices and self-expression. And I think that's why in Manchester we are feeling tremendous public support for May's story, even though May is technically cheating on Juliet for a good portion of the show! Because we hope that most of us will also strive to make the world more tolerant and inclusive.
miriam: You really don't get stories like that on stage. It's different to being non-binary and people are talking about new gender identities today and you don't always see that in the theater. A lot of times people don't know how to deal with it, how to talk about it, and I think that's really well done because it doesn't put a label on who and what May is. We don't label her, she's just Juliet's best friend. It's amazing that we can have a story for them that's front and center.
Do you think the West End is doing enough to represent queer people and black actors?
miriam: I think it will improve. I think there are definitely more stories and roles that have nothing to do with a specific ethnicity. As a black woman, it's great to tell stories that anyone can play and that's wonderful and playing Julia is that it didn't matter who played Julia. It doesn't matter who plays, it's about a new life. More stories like this need to be told and I don't think there are yet, but I think it's going in the right direction.
hour: We represent the BAME community, the LGBTQ community.
a race:ethnicity, sexuality, gender. The characters are flesh-and-blood people who have bows and are multifaceted and flawed. I am very honored to play a genderqueer character in a musical in a commercial space. It just doesn't happen.
Max Martin's music is loved and celebrated by the LGBTQ community. Why do you think they connected so much with your music?
Davi:I don't want to try to speak on behalf of the LGBTQ community, but I do know that Max was keen to work with artists who identify as members or allies of the LGBTQ community. And I imagine the sense of power in many of Max's songs ("Roar", "Stronger", "Confident") has a special appeal for any group that has been marginalized or disempowered by society. Also, many of his hits deal with universal themes like falling in love or getting your heart broken, and no matter who you are or how you identify, it's very easy to relate to.
miriam: It's crazy because you don't even know what to expect when you meet him. He is so laid back and loves that we give them our own spin and ideas. He never tries to make you look like someone else but works to your strengths which is great.
Britney's …Baby One More Time you sing like a ballad before turning into full-blown pop-bop. It's two different versions of a song we love.
miriam: It's amazing to do this. You know people already love the song because people know it, but we're going to change it in a whole new way and make you feel different things about it. It's dramatic, the beats show your heart extra, it's a complete feel for everything.
We all know those hits that are now at the top of the charts. Does the audience that loves the music and lyrics mean extra pressure?
a race:For me, it was an emotional level. Max created the soundtrack to my life and so many others, so it was incredible that the author of our book, David West Read, was able to take such rich music and weave it into this story. So I don't think it's pressure because we breathe new life into these songs. Max was so incredible and involved that he's almost rediscovering these songs from a new point of view. And we didn't change the lyrics either.
Timo:We also held a workshop in February this year and invited people to five presentations. They did it because they wanted feedback. The only comment about the songs is that people wanted more of them. There was a time when Since U Been Gone was part of a mashup and it was a verse and a chorus, but now the whole song is there. The same goes for everyone.
& Juliet are now playing in London's West End. For more information, seeHere.