Since U been gone: imagining Max Martin's Juliet jukebox musical

The Swedish producer’s debut musical sees Juliet ditching Romeo to move to Paris. We use his hits to plot the narrative

A jukebox musical based on Swedish super-producer Max Martin’s biggest hits will hit London’s West End this autumn. Martin is one of the most successful pop producer-songwriters of all time, third only to Paul McCartney and John Lennon when it comes to racking up US No 1 hits. His three-decade career has seen him launch artists such as Robyn, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, assist in Taylor Swift’s pop reinvention and – less auspiciously – sustain noughties laggards such as Maroon 5.

In & Juliet, songs from his back catalogue will tell the story of half of Shakespeare’s most famous couple, who is “getting over Romeo by escaping to Paris with Nurse and her best friends”. The musical’s website asks: “What if Juliet’s famous ending was really just her beginning? What if she decided to choose her own fate?” Little else is known about the musical at this stage, but who ever let facts get in the way of good old-fashioned conjecture? We assembled four writers to script their version of Juliet’s story from Martin’s esteemed catalogue.

It turns out to be easy to sketch a story of Starbucks star-crossed lovers from the lyrics of massive pop hits, quite possibly because Shakespeare’s tragedy is the archetypal romance from which most pop hits descended in one way or another. Who knew!

Britney Spears and Max Martin in 2017.
‘Show me how you want it to be’ … Britney Spears and Max Martin. Photograph: Lester Cohen/WireImage

‘Did my heart love till now’

Juliet is bored. Romeo keeps serenading her with Backstreet Boys’ As Long As You Love Me. He thinks he’s being romantic, rebuking the Montague/Capulet divisions by declaring, “I don’t care who you are / Where you’re from”, but, frankly, it’s making Juliet feel disposable. He also seems to be suggesting that he’ll perish without her, slyly humming Maroon 5’s One More Night (“so I cross my heart and I hope to die”). Time to call his bluff with a swift draught of sleeping potion as Kesha sings “drink that Kool Aid, follow my lead” from Blow. The grinding EDM slows to operatic melodrama as Romeo enters, finds his apparently dead paramour and cocks the trigger as Kesha laments: “This place is about to blow.” Yikes.

‘I did something bad’ ... Taylor Swift.
‘I did something bad’ ... Taylor Swift. Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/TAS18/Getty Images

Juliet awakens. “I did something bad,” she gasps to the crowd, feigning shock. She rips off her gown, the lights flash: “So why’d it feel so good?” she howls, heralding the first big set piece to Taylor Swift’s marvellously vindictive Reputation banger. She hears a cook in the kitchen humming Katy Perry’s Bon Appétit and realises that she wants more: Paris, city of wanton decadence. There, Juliet dabbles in conventional society, but finds the menfolk just as self-obsessed as Romeo: a phalanx of bewigged fops serenades her at a ball with Backstreet Boys’ Larger Than Life: “Every time we’re down / You can make it right.” This nonsense, encore? As she spots an unusually handsome lady courtesan, the opening notes of Demi Lovato’s Cool for the Summer start tinkling on the harpsichord, signalling the majestic second set piece.

Demi Lovato: Cool for the Summer – video

Juliet and her androgynous copine run riot through Paris and watch the sun come up over the city from Montmartre. Lana Del Rey’s Lust for Life plays; our young lovers lean on each other, laughing, as Del Rey gasps: “They say only the good die young / That just ain’t right / ’Cause we’re having too much fun.” Retreating to a garret, they consummate their lust to Robyn’s Show Me Love and vanish into Paris’s secretive lesbian underworld. Cut to a wicked catacomb party. Swift’s New Romantics plays as a chorus of beautiful androgynes explodes: “Heartbreak is the national anthem!” For 150 years, at least, until La Marseillaise takes over. Laura Snapes

‘Don’t waste your love on somebody who doesn’t value it’

Ariana Grande: Into You – video

Act 1
Opens with Juliet on the balcony of her shared-ownership flat in south London. She spies a coy, vaguely rebellious Romeo hiding near the bins and starts singing Ariana Grande’s Into You under her breath.

Act 2
After a night of what she will later learn was quite average sex, Juliet wakes up to Romeo brushing her cheek and singing Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That Way. She thinks he’s cute, they fall deeply in love, but future issues are confirmed by a show-stopping Glee-style mashup of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream and Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble.

Britney Spears.
Stronger … Britney Spears. Photograph: PA

Act 3
Romeo dies after a missed WhatsApp message vis-a-vis a fake suicide attempt. Juliet mopes for a bit before performing a tear-drenched, piano-based ...Baby One More Time that morphs euphorically into a full ensemble Stronger.

Act 4
This new-found confidence transforms into empowerment (a snatch of Kelly Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone) and a drunk rendition of Grande’s No Tears Left to Cry on a Eurostar to Paris. Juliet’s friends take her clubbing – cue Perry’s Bon Appétit minus Migos’ verse (#woke) – and she vows to enjoy the single life (cut to a hungover, vomit-speckled I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman).

Act 5
Paris life suits Juliet. While working in a bakery, she spots a man who reminds her of Romeo, they start a relationship, but he can’t handle her newfound independence (a snippet of Pink’s So What). Ends with a rousing mashup of Swift’s We Are Never Getting Back Together and the Veronicas’ 4ever. Michael Cragg

‘These violent delights have violent ends’

Katy Perry: Dark Horse – video
Ariana Grande.
‘Take my hand, save your soul’ … Ariana Grande. Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Juliet and Nurse hunt for shelter in the cobbled streets of turn-of-the-17th-century Paris, where they run into a group of beautiful, shadowy women. Entranced, Juliet begs to be allowed into this early modern #girlgang. During a haunting choral rendition of Katy Perry’s Dark Horse (“So you wanna play with magic?”), Juliet’s new friends send her soaring into the air (“This love will make you levitate”), revealing that they are witches. Juliet and Nurse pledge themselves to the dark arts. They are now Satan’s children.

All this time spent lurking in dingy dark alleys isn’t great for Juliet’s health, and she soon contracts bubonic plague. Nurse attempts to cure Juliet via the technique of bloodletting, which severely worsens her condition. (A mournfully acoustic Bad Blood sees Juliet whine on her deathbed: “Band-Aids don’t fix gross buboes” and “You made a really deep cut.”) She dies, beautifully.

Luckily, Juliet’s witchy friends step in to save the day, bringing her back from the dead – but in so doing, they spark one of the biggest witch-hunts the city has ever seen. Faced with being burned at the stake, Juliet’s new coven must convert their captors to their cause (a seductive, climactic cover of Ariana Grande’s God Is a Woman: “Take my hand / Save your soul ... you’ll believe God is a woman”). At the musical’s close, Juliet, Nurse and their sisterhood have seized Paris, thanks to the sacred power of darkness. Anna Leszkiewicz

‘I defy you, stars’

Juliet explodes on to the stage from a toaster lift in an explosion of glitter cannons, surrounded by Parisian drag queens in a thigh-slapping rendition of Ariana Grande’s Greedy. Now a pansexual 18-year-old, she’s searching for a star-crossed lover in Marais clubs with the same gusto that she once used to scale Romeo’s balcony. Through the Gauloises fog, she locks eyes with a bequiffed painter named Camille, serenading her with a gender-flipped take on Taylor Swift’s “James Dean daydream look in your eye” line from Style. But when it turns out that Camille is hatching a plan to break into the Louvre and replace the Mona Lisa with her latest creation – a delicate watercolour of Britney Spears – a heartbroken Juliet flees while belting out a heart-rending take on Spears’s Criminal, accompanied by elegant pyrotechnics.

Kelly Clarkson: Since U Been Gone – video

Later, when Juliet meets an unassuming candlestick maker, guest star Miriam Margolyes (who played Juliet’s nurse in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet) descends from the rafters rapping Nicki Minaj’s verse in Grande’s Side to Side. (Minaj’s “ride dick bicycle” line rings out as the lovers embrace.) Yet Juliet ultimately finds unlikely solace in a women’s basketball club. “My loneliness ain’t killing me no more,” Juliet trills, while shooting hoops as the cast unite for the finale: an inspired mashup of Kelly Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone and Five’s Slam Dunk (Da Funk) on the banks of the Seine. Owen Myers

Contributors

Laura Snapes, Michael Cragg, Anna Leszkiewicz and Owen Myers

The GuardianTramp

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