Image Credit: "& Juliet"

'& Juliet' Broadway Show Gives A Queer Update To Shakespeare

Before the pandemic, I treated Broadway like I did my sexuality: I largely ignored it. Sure, it was fun for a Friday night out, but I left the pizzazz to my gay peers. Thankfully for my personality, I came out to my family and friends in April 2020 (What were they gonna do? Isolate me? lol). Flash forward four years, and I’ve made queerness my entire identity — which is why I seek out good, gay entertainment like it’s my job. New Kristen Stewart movie? I’m there. Lesbian line dancing? I’ll bring my cowboy boots. Jukebox musicals? Take my money!

My new favorite thing is when traditional stories are revamped into campy musicals. Don’t get me wrong, I loved watching young Leonardo DiCaprio for three hours in Titanic, but do you know what I loved more? Singing Celine Dion at the top of my voice while Rose’s snobbish mother, Ruth, is played in drag! (Let’s just say Titanique is the gay agenda working overtime.) And this is why I was won over by Tony-nominated Broadway show, “& Juliet.”

The show is a feminist take on “Romeo & Juliet,” hence the title (duh). The musical starts with Shakespeare himself writing the ending to his tragedy when his wife Anne Hathaway (yes, her name is historically accurate) proposes a new plot: what if Juliet didn’t die at the end? What if, instead, she leaves Verona to start a new life with her best friends in Paris? With music and lyrics by Max Martin (as the music producer with the most number one hits of all time, Playbill adorably dubbed Max the “Shakespeare of Pop.”), we’re told the coming-of-age story through Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys, and other early aughts classics — a nostalgic moment this millennial appreciated.

Lorna Courtney, Betsy Wolfe, Justin David Sullivan, Charity Angel Dawson - Photo Credit Matthew Murphy
Image Credit: Photo by Matthew Murphy

As if musical theater centered around Max Martin’s hits wasn’t gay enough, “& Juliet” gives us a queer love story center stage. A nonbinary character named May (played by Justin David Sullivan) is caught in a love triangle with their love interest, François, and their best friend, and titular character, Juliet. And while it’s clear that the internet loves a love triangle (from Challengers to Twilight), Them noted in a 2023 interview with Justin that it’s incredibly rare to see a love triangle between a straight cis femme character and a queer nonbinary character. It’s rare to see a nonbinary character be desired (and not just “the queer best friend”), which makes the storyline all the more powerful.

And before anyone starts yelling about “historical accuracy,” like everyone’s least-favorite uncle at Thanksgiving, May’s character is a natural fit for the Bard’s tale (even in the year 1597). The script addresses this directly when Shakespeare’s character feigns confusion about May’s gender expression.

“Really?” Anne asks. “This from the man who’s built a career on men dressing as women, often playing women dressing as men? [*cough, cough* The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night] The man whose name is basically synonymous with gender-bending? Do you really think it’s up to you to question May’s gender or sexuality, or do you think maybe May is whoever May is, and it’s really none of your business?”

Justin David Sullivan - Photo Credit Matthew Murphy
Image Credit: Photo by Matthew Murphy

In a moving solo, “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” is reinterpreted as a song about living outside the gender binary with the lyrics: “Feels like I’m caught in the middle/ That’s when I realize/ I’m not a girl/ Not yet a woman.” And when “I Kissed A Girl” started playing, I actually screamed. Katy Perry’s unintentional bisexual anthem is what got me through middle school. Though May refers to themselves with she/her pronouns through the lyrics, they clarify, “You know I’m not a girl, right?” to which François says, “I don’t care. just like kissing you.” Screaming, crying, throwing up, etc.

Oh, and if I hadn’t already died from cuteness overload, François sings, “It’s going to be May,” which was a huge hit with the audience. (Me, I’m the audience.) Excuse me while I repeatedly blast the soundtrack and try to heal my inner child.

Melanie Whyte
Melanie Whyte
Melanie Whyte (she/her) leads the lifestyle and relationship content at Betches. As an amateur New Yorker and professional bisexual, she enjoys writing about the bane of sex and relationships in the city. She is also perpetually in her messy house era despite spending all of her money on Instagram ads.