‘Romeo and Juliet’ is one of the most famous and tragic of the Bard’s plays. A love affair that is doomed to end in tragedy due to the hostilities between the lover’s families. Turning Shakespeare’s script into a romantic musical with mass appeal seems an impossible task, and indeed it apparently is, which is why this musical does not attempt to do so.
The book written by David Freeman and Don Black, for all intents and purposes ignores Shakespeare’s text, and has merely borrowed the plot and characters. I suspect that this will make them unpopular with many in the professional theatre world, however, I was delighted - a rock-opera musical based around Shakespeare’s exquisite wording would sound incongruous. When the life of Jesus was famously set to a rock-opera musical in “Jesus Christ Superstar”, we were treated to such ‘great’ lyrics as ‘What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a happening’. It seems that taking an outstanding script or story and using it to create a piece of popular culture will inevitably throw up some strange oddities if one seeks to compare it with the original.
My main complaint is the lack of romantic passion. I found it hard to believe that these two kids, Romeo and Juliet, were fascinated and enraptured by each other. Juliet, played by Lorna Want, seems like a petulant young girl who is determined to disobey her family’s wishes. Her marriage to Romeo becomes a mere act of rebellion against her parents rather than the actions of a lovesick child. A love scene, with Romeo and Juliet sharing a few intimate moments, holding hands, staring into each others eyes, discovering the joys of first love is woefully missing, and makes the final scene look senseless.
The stage design by David Roger works well. The two families each stand on scaffolding platforms, which are pushed around the stage by the cast. They create a sense of embattlement between the families of Capulet and Montaque, as they defend their honour, their flimsy castles in the sky. The use of scaffolding also provides a foreboding omen for the tragedy to follow.
The costumes are a strange mixture of traditional and modern. Romeo is always dressed in motorbike leathers whilst Juliet wears more traditional 16th century clothing. Why?
The costumes used for the mask ball are exquisite and the choreography superb. This is the most aesthetically pleasing act of the show. The remaining choreography is mediocre and at times annoying. I lost count of the number of times members of the ensemble slid on their knees across the stage.
Andrew Bevis (Romeo) has a wonderful voice and can sing a gentle love ballad or an angry explosive song with ease. Jane McDonald (Nurse) and Sevan Stephen (Friar Lawrence) both sing well and easily stand out above the remainder of the ensemble, who all perform adequately. The one exception is Lorna Watt who at the tender age of 15 lacks the experience to bring the full range of emotions to her voice that is needed for the part of Juliet. She at times practically shouts the songs, which is a pity as she has an exceptional voice for such a young actress.
This is not a great musical and certainly does not compare with great classics such as ‘Les Miserables’. However, it is a show you may enjoy, but not one you will fall in love with.
**Photos by Alastair Muir
Next review by Tom Keatinge
What on earth was going on at the Piccadilly Theatre last night? What appeared to be going on was one of the most extraordinary theatrical endurance tests I have had the misfortune to witness for a long time, in the guise of Romeo & Juliet – The Musical. I should imagine that in the 400 or so years since Shakespeare penned Romeo & Juliet few productions have come even close to the mind-numbing absurdity of this vapid display. How can anyone have ever begun to believe that this would fly? What was Gerard Presgurvic, the composer, thinking about when he wrote this rubbish, and how were numerous producers “quickly won over” by this tosh? And, most bizarrely, how did a lyricist of Don Black’s stature allow himself to be entrapped?
The plot needs no introduction, and this version follows the original more or less faithfully… Romeo meets Juliet, falls in love, they secretly marry, and meet a tragic end, blinded by their love for one another and in defiance of their families, who have been feuding for centuries, only to have their needless battle halted by the deaths of two of their cherished young. Nothing new there then. Yet what is new is that this big budget production appears to succeed in scoring “null points” in just about every possible category. From whichever angle you consider this production, it fails: choreography that looks like a primary school gym class; a set that looks like a primary school playground; singing that bears a passing resemblance to the end of term primary school concert; music and lyrics that bear all the hallmarks of the runners up entry at a primary school competition.
In all this mush, one has to feel for the cast; they are, after all, only acting as directed, and as the book and the music allow. Friar Lawrence (Sevan Stephan) does his best to try bring some feeling to proceedings, but the majority of those on stage have no presence at all, and in the case of Andrew Bevis (Romeo) and Zara Dawson (alternate Juliet), look hopelessly and unkindly out of their depths. Jane McDonald’s nurse (who said you can tell she used to sing on a cruise ship as she does a great imitation of a foghorn?) blares her way through the evening, perhaps warning a potential audience to steer clear.
There is something almost sad about this production of Romeo & Juliet, but for all the wrong reasons – pride before a fall for Gerard Presgurvic, who in his biography writes he “now only lives for this sort of musical, beamed at an international audience”! Try beaming it at an invading alien force, it is likely to be more effective.
What other critics had to say.....
SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT says, "The acting goes from inadequate to terrible....Shambles" NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Dire musical....Valient performance, but a plague on both the music and lyrics". CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Aficionados of all-time great bad musicals had better make haste. This one is a real collector's item." He goes on to say, " It's witless, banal, clumsily staged, abysmally written and often buttock-clenchingly embarrassing." IAN JOHNS for THE TIMES says, "It remains faithful to Shakespeare’s basic storyline but...cannot save the story from drowning in a sea of Eurovision power ballads." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "An unholy mess." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, "Bland and boring." LISA MARTLAND for THE STAGE says, "A dedicated ensemble does its best to keep the show together but they are beaten down by mediocrity."
External links to full reviews from popular press