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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Amy Martin

Meet the Canberran stealing the show as 'rock star' Romeo

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

Well, it turns out not that long ago Romeo was actually in class at Marist College Canberra.

Now, you're more likely to find Romeo - or rather, former Canberran Blake Appelqvist - on stage in Sydney, playing one-half of the star-crossed lovers in & Juliet.

Written by David West Read (writer and executive producer for Schitt's Creek), & Juliet flips the script on the classic Shakespeare play Romeo & Juliet.

It explores what would have happened if Juliet didn't end up with Romeo, and instead went out to find herself, while Shakespeare (Australian Idol alum Rob Mills) and his wife Anne Hathaway (Amy Lehpamer) watch from the sidelines.

Filled with pop anthems from hitmaker Max Martin, including ... Baby One More Time, I Want It That Way and Since U Been Gone, & Juliet has proved to be a hit on the West End and Broadway, as well as during earlier Australian runs in Melbourne and Perth.

Blake Appelqvist, inset, on stage as Romeo in & Juliet. Pictures supplied

While it has a stellar cast - including second Australian Idol alum Casey Donovan - it's Appelqvist who makes what is possibly one of the most memorable entrances in musical theatre; returning from the dead singing along to the Bon Jovi's It's My Life.

It's a role that is not only Appelqvist's most notable to date but has also garnered them a following of fans asking for autographs and dressing up at Romeo when attending the show.

"I just feel like a rock star, I'm going to be honest," they say.

"There's nothing like Romeo's entrance and I've seen a lot of theatre and I don't know another entrance that is really that iconic.

"I don't know if it's super warranted because I haven't done anything in the whole show and then all of a sudden, bam! I get to descend from the heavens. But it has been funny watching people's reactions.

Blake Appelqvist meeting with & Juliet fans. Picture supplied

"I've only seen the show twice on Broadway and I just remember screaming the first time, out of nowhere, when Romeo came on stage. It's so amazing and I feel very lucky to get to do it."

Aside from Romeo's great entrance, part of what makes & Juliet so memorable is how it includes non-binary and trans storylines seamlessly. This includes Juliet's friend May (played by Jesse Dutlow), who struggles with being a non-binary person in a binary world. An NSYNC classic with a peculiar pronunciation marks a major May moment in the musical.

But while certain Shakespeare purists may not agree with the direction & Juliet takes, Appelqvist says - just like the musical itself points out - it's not too different from how the plays were originally performed.

"There's a part in the show where Anne Hathaway addresses a comment that Shakespeare makes when he's saying, 'Isn't May more of a girl's name'?" they say.

"And then she re-educates him in the legacy that Shakespeare has had with men dressing as women, women dressing as men - it's inherently Shakespearean.

"So it is interesting that something as old as Shakespeare and something that is a pillar of our literacy education is also inherently fluid and gender explorative.

"We've just updated our systems and now we're here."

  • & Juliet is now on at Sydney Lyric Theatre.
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