The Citiblog

Maya Boyd Roars Into &Juliet
June 7, 2024, 11:16.48 am ET


Photo: Matthew Murphy

Not every musical can survive the replacement of its Tony-nominated leading lady or feel fresh on its second viewing. But not every musical proves to be “&Juliet,” the thoroughly enchanting “jukebox musical” now at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, which still can have audiences – old and new – happily on their feet at the show’s finale: “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” the ultra-catchy Oscar-nominated theme from the 2016 movie “Trolls.”

Most notably, you will definitely want to stand up and cheer for newcomer Maya Boyd, who gives a spectacular, strong-voiced performance as our titular heroine. This clever musical literally stands on the legs and shoulders of Boyd, a performer so enchanting that she can actually mine the lyrics of Britney Spears’ mega-hit “Oops, I Did It Again” as an actual act of contrition and make Katy Perry’s “Roar” sound like more than just a rote feminist anthem but turn the song into an affirmation of true self-worth.

Yet, as good as Boyd is – and she deserves a long career on Broadway -- the credit for this show’s success is shared among a lot of talented folks: the top-flight principal cast and versatile ensemble; songwriting genius Max Martin, whose many, many megahits, including Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.” are cleverly inserted into the show; director Luke Shepherd, who moves the tale along with perfect pacing; and, especially book writer David West Read (of “Schitt’s Creek” fame), who has crafted a remarkably smart libretto.

The piece begins on the opening night of the original “Romeo & Juliet,” as the witty, smart and underappreciated Anne Hathaway (a truly sublime Betsy Wolfe) convinces her egotistical husband, one William Shakespeare (original British star Oliver Tompsett, only playing through June 16, who is hilarious), to change the ending of his now-famous tragedy so that Juliet chooses to live – not die – even though Romeo has poisoned himself.

Indeed, Anne’s idea is to let Juliet make her own decisions about her future, which she does for a while, escaping Verona to travel to Paris alongside her transitioning best friend May (Justin David Sullivan), her devoted if sometimes exasperated Nurse (the hilarious Megan Kane, subbing for Charity Angel Dawson), and her new best friend, April (Wolfe). There, Juliet soon finds a “connection” with the shy Francois DuBois (a beguiling Phillipe Arroyo) – who also happens to be the son of her Nurse’s long-ago love Lance (original British star David Bedella – a superb actor bringing depth to an underwritten role.)

As expected, many complications ensue, especially after Will – without letting Anne know -- resurrects the supposedly dead Romeo (Ben Jackson Walker, who makes a remarkable entrance looking like a lost Carter brother and belting an earth-shattering rendition of Jon Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.”). He does this right as Juliet has agreed to marry Francois, unaware of the growing feelings between Francois and May, since he feels his play needs more “conflict.”

The second act also brings Will and Anne’s marital strife to a head, as she considers a separation even while assuring Juliet that true love will conquer all through a remarkable, if contemplative, rendition of Celine Dion’s “That’s The Way It Is.”

Rest assured, though, this is no Shakespearean tragedy. If Max Martin had written the song, this delicious jukebox score would have ended with “Feelin’ Good.” The characters all do, and you will as well.