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In the great-minds-think-alike department, two Canadian-penned shows are opening in Toronto next week that both rewrite the ending of Romeo and Juliet so that Juliet does not die at the end.

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Pippa Mackie as Juliet.Pink Monkey Studios/Supplied

& Juliet, on through August 14, is a big commercial show in town courtesy of Mirvish Productions, a musical that “remixes” Shakespeare around the greatest hits of pop songwriter Max Martin (Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Katy Perry) and features a script by Schitt’s Creek writer and playwright David West Read. Its West End production, still running, won several Olivier Awards – and the self-described “romantic comedy that proves there’s life after Romeo” has its sights set on Broadway next.

On the smaller end of the theatre spectrum, at the Toronto Fringe Festival, Juliet: A Revenge Comedy will be running from July 6 to July 14. This Monster Theatre production written by Pippa Mackie and Ryan Gladstone imagines Juliet recruiting “a team of Shakespeare’s most famous female characters to find out why they’ve been forced to die”. It was recently nominated for a number of Jessie Awards in Vancouver – and, next up after Toronto, are runs at the Winnipeg and Edmonton Fringe festivals.

Local theatre-loving media reporter Jonathan Goldsbie tweeted about this strange stage coincidence on Monday – highlighting the similarity between the logos of the two shows, and the dissimilarity in the ticket prices. I also received an email recently from a reader wondering if perhaps one show was written in response to the other.

In fact, the Juliet-saving shows both date back to 2019. Juliet: A Revenge Comedy premiered at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival that summer (and also played at the Edmonton Fringe Festival), while & Juliet premiered in Manchester that September before transferring to London.

The two-liet situation was almost stickier as the two concurrently developed shows nearly shared a title, Mackie, a well-regarded actor based on the West Coast, told me over the phone on Monday. “‘And Juliet’ was a potential title for our show at a certain point – but it didn’t feel comedic enough for what it was, so we changed it,” she said.

Mackie and Read are far from the first to imagine different fates for Juliet that are less unfair than the one Shakespeare gave her, of course.

Theatre artists have been revising the Bard’s plays for centuries – and, at times, rewrites of Romeo and Juliet have been more popular with audiences than the original.

When the great actor-manager David Garrick performed in the tragedy in the mid-18th century, it was in his own adaptation that also saved the life of a character … Tybalt. (Why Tybalt, the only character audiences are glad to see die, I don’t know.)

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Carly Pokoradi as Lady Macbeth.Kings Head Pub/Supplied

Garrick did not also save Juliet, though he did change her age from 13 to 18 to make her character arc less, as we’d now say, problematic – and his version was frequently produced for about 100 years. (Thank you to the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast from the Folger Shakespeare Library for this information.)

More recently, we just got a film remake of the 20th century’s most popular adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. West Side Story, you might say, is the most prominent work of art in which Juliet decides not to take her own life – though it’s Maria, of course, who chooses not to inflict violence on herself or others in the 1957 musical with music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

The idea of Juliet making it out alive at the end of Romeo and Juliet was also a joke in a recent Broadway musical: Tootsie. In composer David Yazbeck and Robert Horn’s 2018 adaptation of the film of the same name, there is a musical-within-the-musical called Juliet’s Curse in which Juliet survives and sings a song called I’m Alive. (“My world / Was a dud / Lots of death /Lots of blood /So my life / I would take/ But now I’m thinking It’s a big mistake.”)

A mission to save Juliet is comedic, but taken more seriously, in 1988′s Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald. In that Governor General’s Award-winning play, a Queen’s University professor named Constance attempts to rewrite the endings of both Othello and Romeo and Juliet. (MacDonald is playing around with another Shakespeare play this summer at the Stratford Festival, where her new show Hamlet-911 opens at the end of July.)

As it happens, Mackie played Juliet in a production of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) back in 2013 at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria – and also played a character who wished she were Juliet in another Canadian adaptation of Shakespeare, The Society For The Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius by Colleen Murphy, before she wrote her own riff on the tragic heroine. “I feel like with stories that are kind of timeless, that they lend themselves to many, many adaptation and interpretations,” she says.

What’s opening in Toronto this week

Kamloopa, a recent Governor General Award winning play by Kim Senklip Harvey, opens at Soulpepper in co-production with Native Earth Performing Arts (to July 24): “Three Indigenous women hit the road on their way to the largest powwow on the West Coast – and to self-discovery. But how do you discover yourself when Columbus allegedly already did that?”

Children of Fire – a documentary play about Kurdish female freedom fighters by Shahrzad Arshadi and Anna Chatterton – is on in Prairie Drive Park from June 27 to July 2. It’s from Nightwood Theatre, it’s free and it’s not Shakespeare.

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