When American theatergoers first visit London, they tend to report back on one crucial difference:
“No free Playbills?!”
Besides the loss of a potential memento, I’m more interested in how this lack affects their artistic experience.
An obvious change: most Playbills for plays list the “time and place” in which their stories are set. They’re usually less-than one-sentence descriptions, but since the productions themselves don’t always divulge this information from the stage, reading these often poetically-worded lines can alter our relationship with and conception of the whole kit and caboodle.
BUT, how many people actually seek out these Playbill sections, let alone know they exist? Plus, the “time and place” can be roughly gleaned through other, readily-available means.
Conversely, musical audiences generally flip through their Playbills more frequently, for one reason: how commonly do you see/hear curious/bored viewers rifling through their pages DURING A SHOW, scouring to check the song list, to orient where they are in the story, to determine how much is left?
Seems like harmless behavior, right?
Besides the abhorrent distraction inflicted on all surrounding eyes and ears, for a jukebox musical like & Juliet, the song list not only constitutes a spoiler, but robs the audience of the show’s secret sauce: the gleeful shock of gradually recognizing their next favorite bop, and what narrative context it’s being used in. Unless audiences put in the work to dial up the cast album on their phones — betting against an audience doing work = cash money — London crowds have no recourse to spoil themselves.
Which majorly contributes to the joy of & Juliet’s communal viewing experience. The show’s story is so wacky, and it deploys rich and famous tunes in such unexpected and unlikely scenarios — I mean, it relocates this modern pop into Shakespeare’s time, the fundamental appeal of the show’s conceit — that shockwaves of slow, stunned comprehension shoot from row to row, seat to seat, as soon as the first notes hit. Navigating this surprise — who clocks the song, and when? How do they respond? Who’s laughing? Who’s clapping? Who’s rolling their eyes?! Who’s groaning! — feels like a party. It’s a version of “OMG THIS IS MY FUCKING SONG”, the highlight of any dance floor.
And yet, this rush of enthused clarity would be deprived from us if we could check the contents of the playlist in advance. Same goes for & Juliet. Who wants to miss out on baffled revelations like this:
“Ok, we’re in a dramatic moment, wait, BY GAWD, is that fucking Hit Me Baby One More Time’s music?!”
Cue the raucous, trickling and rippling through the house as different people react to the unfolding inanity and insanity. A song list in & Juliet‘s Playbill would poop on this party.
Which is why I’m requesting that its producers do the right thing, and drop the song list from all Playbills.