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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Romeo and Juliet - the Musical
by Lizzie Loveridge

They say I'm very young
Going through a phase
They say I must learn
To curb my adolescent ways.

-- Juliet
Romeo and Juliet - the Musical
Andrew Bevis as Romeo and Lorna Want as Juliet
(Photo: Alastair Muir)
At last, a musical one can dine out on! Romeo and Juliet - the Musical, an adaptation of a French hit, but billed as a new musical, lands on the West End stage just in time for the turkey season. It is a fun evening but maybe not in quite the way the producers envisaged. Its beautiful young cast may find a following with the pre-teens generation but I wouldn't expect their parents to be able to sit through this mish-mash of romance and kitsch without giggling.

The musical opens with "This Is Verona. " as the rival families squirm on climbing frames making Verona look like Europe's vice capital with its leather clad pimps and barely clad girls. David Beckham comes centre stage playing Tybalt (Alexis James) -- if I were Juliet I'd have fallen for my cousin. It is all gorgeously over the top. The Prince (Michael Cormick) says, "I said PUT DOWN your weapons!" like an out of control headmaster. The dance is the kind of frenetic choreography where the cast need knee pads because so much of it entails sliding on the floor on one's knees. Ouch!

Juliet's (Lorna Want) appearance is a shock. She is so very young and with her hair tucked behind her ears she looks pre-pubescent. I do hope this show isn't going to attract the wrong sort of clientele. Still her father's (David Bardsley) advice to Paris (Tim Walton), "When one is aroused, mistakes are made", hopefully falls on hearing ears.

Juliet's balcony is made out of parallel bars making her look as if she is in a playpen. Romeo (Andrew Bevis) and Juliet (Lorna Want) are sweet children and sing sweetly but fail to convince us that there is passion between them.

Jane McDonald, a veteran of BBC TV's reality documentary on a cruise liner, plays the Nurse. Her advice to Juliet, "Darling, having a husband is like having a bit of old furniture. You don't have to love it, just give it a polish now and again." The mind boggles. She is all Yorkshire, caring coarseness. Sévan Stephan, a veteran of Lautrec, plays Friar Lawrence, whose waved coiffure looks as if he spends more time in the hairdressers than the church but maybe he spent his youth in singing lessons, because he sounds good. Andrew Bevis and Alexis James have all the making of teen heart throbs, beautiful to look at and with nice voices.

Gérard Presgurvic's music is well enough sung, but with sudden leaps up and down the scale remindus of those dodgy Eurovision Song Contest entries. The singers belt out the songs but they are somehow melody free. We are firmly in the territory of "mockopera" with music largely derived from the Les Misérables style.

The ball room scene has a backdrop of a badly copied Botticelli's Birth of Venus only for the curtain to drop away to reveal a gratuitous nude Venus with her three feet long pubic hair. This vulgar scene sums up what has happened to Shakespeare's story of the star crossed lovers. Barely a word from the Bard is allowed to survive. Instead, it is as if one gave the text to a group of thirteen year olds and asked them to translate it, the mundane and banal replacing the poetic. Don Black's lyrics are commonplace and mercilessly lacking in wit. Each line is five or six or seven syllables, "We'll meet in the sky/So we'll say good bye".

Artistic (did I mean that?) licence has also been taken with the story. Tybalt declares his love for Juliet and Romeo does not meet, let alone murder, Paris in the churchyard. I liked the Montagues crashing the Capulet's party disguised as waiters.

Everyone is very fashionably dressed. Red and black leather for the Montagues, Red and purple for the Capulets. Lots of spangles and chic motor cycle gear. Some of the ensemble could be the Spice Girls. The mausoleum is dominated by a suspended stone angel. Direction has the cast appearing up in the Dress Circle as all is kept on the move.

The American tourist has not returned to London in any great numbers. Without them, London's theatrical producers are looking for a new audience. There are visitors from France and Italy and maybe they can be persuaded to buy tickets for Romeo and Juliet? If not, all those pre-teenies could do no better than to fall for Romeo or Tybalt.

Romeo and Juliet -- the Musical
Music by Gérard Presgurvic
Lyrics by Don Black
Book by David Freeman and Don Black
Directed by David Freeman

Lighting Designer: Durham Marenghi
Sound Designer: Rick Clarke
Set and Costume Designer: David Roger
Musical Director: Howard Moody
Orchestration: John Cameron
Associate Choreographer: Christine Hassid
Starring: Andrew Bevis, Jane McDonald, Lorna Want
With: David Bardsley, Michael Cormick, Louise Davidson, Matt Dempsey, James Graeme, Michele Hooper, Alexis James, Rachid Sabitri, Sévan Stephan, Tim Walton, Simon Bailey, Chloe Bell, Jo Cavanagh, David Christopher, Amy Creighton, Stuart Dawes, Zara Dawson, Hadrian Delacey, Lez Dwight, Magnus Engqvist-James, Susie Fenwick, Nic Ineson, Martin Matthias, Chris Middlebrook, Ebony Molina, Tamsin Stewart, Melanie Tate, Carly Tancredi, Gary Tushaw, Tamara Wall, Matthew Wolfenden.
Running time: Two hours thirty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7478 8810
Booking to 15th February 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 6th November 2002 performance at the Piccadilly Theatre, Denman Street, London W1 (Tube Station: Piccadilly Circus)
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