& Juliet
& Juliet

How & Juliet Gives New Life to Shakespeare’s Heroine and Iconic Pop Hits

Dubbed the Shakespeare of pop music, Max Martin is the force behind some of pop’s biggest hits made famous by the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Celine Dion, the Backstreet Boys — the list goes on and on. Now his most iconic tunes have been cleverly reimagined as the soundtrack of the Broadway musical comedy sensation & Juliet.

We all know the tragic ending of Romeo and Juliet, but & Juliet asks: What if Juliet didn’t die, and instead restarted her life without Romeo? Entertainment journalist for Spectrum News NY1 Frank DiLella recently caught up with & Juliet star Betsy Wolfe, who plays Anne Hathaway (not that Anne Hathaway — but William Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway), one of the show’s narrators of sorts, and & Juliet’s music arranger, orchestrator, and music supervisor, Bill Sherman, to learn more about bringing the Max Martin songbook (and this new Juliet) to life at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.

You just celebrated one year on Broadway and your show is a hit! How does that feel?

BETSY WOLFE: I am still amazed that we just took our one-year photos. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that on Broadway. I was never part of a show where that was a possibility. I’ve only done these niche, limited-run, experimental pieces where we knew there was a finite amount of time. So to be in my first show that not only feels like an important story to be telling but also that happens to be a commercial hit is new to me in this stage of my career. And I absolutely do not take this for granted.

BILL SHERMAN: When we first started doing this show, we were totally unafraid — we thought this was a joyful thing. It’s hard not to smile when you see & Juliet. That’s how I feel about it. I love it, and the music turns heads. I listen to people leave the show when I go, and I hear “I haven’t had that much fun at a show ever!”

The pop stars who have collaborated with Max Martin over the years continue to show up for & Juliet. I saw that Ariana Grande recently stopped by the show.

BW: She was beyond lovely.  I wrote down what she said to me. [Laughs.] She said, “Funniest b–ch I ever heard. Every joke was f–king landing.” It made me crack up. I thought, “I’ll take it.”

How about Katy Perry?

BW: Meeting Katy was one of the most joyous experiences for me because Katy and I are the same age. We had a baby three months apart. She doesn’t know any of this; I know this because she’s KATY FREAKIN’ PERRY! I love her music and know every song she’s ever done. She resonated so much with my character of Anne because that’s who she is, in a certain way. She’s a game changer and she’s here to shake things up, and she’s done that in her world.

How about the guys from Backstreet Boys and ’NSYNC? I saw on Instagram that AJ McLean and Joey Fatone attended the show.

BW: I’ve never heard so much from my high school girlfriends on social media! [Laughs.] I’ve got to be honest: I was never that much into the boy-band thing — that whole period kind of passed me by. I was too busy listening to Les Miz. But it was funny to see names popping up from my high school [on social media when the guys stopped by the show].

Who are you still hoping to meet after the show?

BW: I love Jessie J! I’m a huge Jessie J fan! “Domino” has been on my run playlist for years, so when I first read the script and the second song I came to was “Domino,” I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me?!”

Bill, what’s been your favorite pop-star encounter at the show?

BS: His songs aren’t in the show, but when we were doing the show in London, Ed Sheeran was at the show. I brought my kids backstage and we’re standing on the stage and Ed walks in, and he looks at me and recognizes me because we worked on Sesame Street years ago. And he goes, “I know you!” And I was like, “I know you!” And we shook hands and reminisced about Sesame Street. And my kids couldn’t get over that Ed Sheeran said “I know you” to me. [Laughs.]

Betsy, with this show, you get to put your own stamp on Max Martin’s pop hits. What has that been like for you?

BW: I’ve done so many revivals now where I’ve had to think of what the previous originators might have done. I approach everything the same way: I know what will make it truthful and authentic if I just bring myself to it and honor the essence of what has been done before.

Bill, talk about arranging the songs in the show but still staying true to Max’s vision for his music.

BS: There were two ways we went about it. Max said to us, “If you’re going to stray from the original song, go all the way.” A good example of that is the song “… Baby One More Time.” It’s a big number and it defines who Juliet is — and that song sounds nothing like the Britney Spears pop song that we know. When people hear that song, people are like, “I can’t believe they turned the song into what it is.” It’s supercool. On the flip side, if the song is going to sound like it is on the record, then it needs to sound like it is on the record. An example of that would be “Since U Been Gone.”

Bill, what was it like working with Max Martin? He’s a music legend!

BS: Initially it was terrifying. When you’re presented with the prospect of getting to work with the greatest songwriter of our time, as a songwriter yourself it’s an honor, but terrifying. His level with everything is so high — you have to rise to the occasion. But we’ve become really good friends, and the camaraderie of it all, it’s my favorite part about it. As music makers and arrangers, he gave us carte blanche to do whatever we wanted with the songs. He always stressed do whatever tells the story the best.

Max Martin is a music machine. What’s the secret behind hit after hit after hit after hit?

BS: I ask him that almost once a week. I think at the end of the day, it’s all subjective: This is how he feels and this is what he thinks right now. Max will do a thing where he will “challenge the melody,” because for him it’s melodies and hooks first. Max and his team will figure out the melody for the chorus and then they will spend the whole week trying to make it better. And if they can make it better, that’s the one they will go with. And everything is about earworms these days. 

BW: I don’t know what his secret is! This man has dominated pop music for 20 years. And if you meet him, he’s the most unassuming human imaginable. The fact that he’s just who he is — he’s a kid in a candy store when he comes to the show. He’s so humble. I think the secret to his music is keeping it simple. The music speaks for itself.

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