& Juliet creator David West Read on Max Martin Musical

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…Baby again. Since you’ve been Gone. Can’t stop the feeling. I kissed a girl.

Some of the greatest pop songs of the past 20 or so years, and they all have one man in common: mysterious Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin.

The songwriting and producing genius has explored many different styles since penning his first pop hits with a capital P for the Backstreet Boys in the mid-90s, embracing rock and R&B to work with. bands like Coldplay, The Weeknd and Lizzo in recent years.

But his latest reinvention is perhaps the most surprising to date: Martin’s hit catalog forms the backbone of & Julieta new musical retelling of Shakespeare’s classic story about 30 of Martin’s most recognizable songs.

The man responsible for turning this unlikely wedding into a cohesive musical is an Emmy winner Schitt’s Creek writer David West Read, who spoke to news.com.au before & Julietpremiering in Australia at the Regent Theater in Melbourne in February 2023.

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The show tells a “what if” story following an alternate ending to Romeo and Juliet – was it a daunting task, writing new stories around one of the most famous plays ever written?

David: I think it would have been intimidating if I had tried to rewrite Romeo and Julietwhich I think we can all agree is a very good piece.

But it’s an entirely new piece that begins at the start of Shakespeare’s classic and turns in a much less tragic direction, and it’s packed full of everyone’s favorite pop songs.

So, while I would love to be compared to Shakespeare, I think the legacy of Shakespeare’s original screenplay is very much intact!

Romeo and Juliet is all about intense young love and heartbreak – is that how you tied the knot to put it in a musical full of pop songs?

David: Yes! So many great pop songs are about young love, but as a result, pop music is sometimes dismissed as light, mellow, and fleeting.

But if you listen to a playlist of Max Martin songs over and over again in the dark (like I did), you’ll be struck by the amount of emotion in his music and the authenticity of the feelings behind those songs. pop.

I think that’s why his music lives on, and why we want to hear those songs over and over again.

Max once told me that a lot of Swedish pop music has a tinge of sadness behind it, like “dancing with tears in your eyes”, and for me it’s that exact mix of pure joy and utter despair that makes it a perfect musical. collection of theater songs.

Shakespeare wrote the play over 400 years ago, was it important to update the story/themes for today’s audience?

David: It turns out that a lot has changed in 400 years.

So our creative and design teams worked with the cast to bring a modern sensibility to an Elizabethan classic, and you can see that reflected in the set, the costumes, the musical arrangements, the dialogue (which is in the today’s vernacular and non-Shakespearean verse), and of course the themes we explore in the new story.

Max Martin has such a huge catalog – how did you narrow down the list? Were there any songs you really wanted to use that you just couldn’t get on the show?

David: Yes! We’ve been developing this musical for six years now, and in the process we’ve auditioned and rejected dozens of other Max hits.

There are about 30 surviving songs on the show, and they’re all amazing, but more than that, they all move the story forward.

You could easily make 10 musicals with Max’s catalog, but we had to be ruthless in removing some of our favorites.

My goal has always been that if you live on another planet and have never heard a Max Martin song before, you can come to this show and experience the music as if it were all written for this story.

Was Max involved or was it more about taking his songs and creating brand new work?

David: Max was the perfect collaborator.

He hired amazing people and gave them space to do their best, while being involved every step of the way – attending all the workshops, attending all the auditions and most importantly working with the music supervisor Bill Sherman for creating the most beautiful orchestrations for this show, and the most incredible cast album.

Beyond that, he’s everyone’s cheerleader, making us all feel so supported and loved.

I read that you took a crash course in pop music when you started the show, going to various gigs by artists who worked with Max. What have you learned?

David: Yes, Max Martin went to see a few musicals (since he had never seen Mom Mia), and director Luke Sheppard and I were sent to a bunch of pop gigs.

We’ve seen Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Backstreet Boys… and while our musical can’t quite compete with a pop concert in terms of spectacle, we’ve made it our mission to come close.

We have glitter, objects that come out of the ground and confetti cannons. Theater tickets are expensive! Audiences deserve to think and feel, but also to be wildly entertained.

I know some of the artists covered have seen the show, is it a thrill when you hear they have seen it? Is there anyone you still hope will make it to a show? I have a feeling Britney would love that…

David: It’s always a thrill. Everyone loves Max, and I think it’s fun for artists to see their songs reinvented by a cast that really knows how to make each song their own. I think Britney would love that, and I hope she comes soon.

Schitt’s Creek has been so successful in recent years. Will fans of this show find a similar sense of humor and absurdity in & Juliet?

David: I think one of the things that people liked the most Schitt’s Creek was his mix of humor and heart, which is a balance I seek in all my work.

All my friends from the cast of Schitt’s Creek who came to see & Juliet were incredibly kind and complimentary so hopefully fans of the show will have a similar experience.

Finally, what is your favorite Max Martin song and why?

David: I like One more try, because it’s the only song Max wrote specifically for this musical. I’ll never forget the day he sang it to us for the first time on the piano, and I can’t wait for Australian audiences to discover it.

& JULIET performs at the Regent Theater in Melbourne from February 26, 2023. Tickets on sale via Ticketek.

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