Go Behind the Scenes with a Brilliant Aussie Pair from Exuberant Musical '& Juliet'
The warm, dynamic and talented duo of Amy Lehpamer and Yashith Fernando give us an inside look at the spectacular musical taking over Regent Theatre this winter.
June 06, 2023
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When you're sitting in a dark, hushed theatre, it's magic when you get properly lost in a show. There can be razzle-dazzle costumes and a flawless set, a riveting plot line or standout acting. But, it is most impressive when it's a winning combination of all of the above and you emerge at the end chattering excitedly about what you just witnessed. & Juliet is the Olivier Award-winning musical that does just that, delivering two-and-a-half hours of Shakespeare-meets-pop bangers fun.
So, what happens behind the scenes of a musical that's so brilliantly executed? How did the actors score their gigs? And how do they feel about their characters? We sat down and had a chat with two of the show's stars — one who's had an extensive (and flourishing) on-stage career and another who's making their debut — to ask these very questions.
First, some context: Amy Lehpamer wows as Anne, Shakespeare's wife who's excitedly suggesting edits to the ending of his play Romeo & Juliet. Yashith Fernando is debuting as Francois, who plays a pivotal role in Juliet's (Lorinda May Merrypor) quest for self-discovery. Read on to gain an inside look at the all-out stage show, then book tickets and make a date with the Regent Theatre to experience it for yourself.
Yash, how was your audition process?
YASHITH: It was really, really, really cool. I'd previously worked with the casting director and they asked me to come in. My early audition was the first where I'd felt comfortable. In my previous experience, I was trying so hard to give what I thought [the casting directors] wanted. But there was so little of & Juliet online, so I had no choice but to give myself. It just felt really comfortable and really smooth. And then I got the amazing phone call that said I was gonna be in it.
Did you feel confident that you had it in the bag?
YASHITH: There was definitely moments where I felt I did a really good job with the scene and gave them a really good version of Francois. I felt confident in my work and interpretation, but I never allowed myself to think I got it cos it's too sad when you don't.
What about you, Amy? How did you find your way in?
AMY: I was 39 or 40 weeks pregnant when the video submission was due. And I was like… probably not gonna do a video right this second, my baby's due *laughs*. So I kind of put it to bed. A few weeks later I got a call from my agent saying they're coming to Brisbane, where I was living, and asking how I felt about auditioning. I went 'sure, but please tell them that I'll be [reading from] the paper in my hands'. Personally, I always learn the material but I'd just had a baby — I had no brain.
[The audition] was literally the first time I'd been away from my baby. He was four weeks old and my partner had him in the car, driving him around the block to keep him calm.
I went to Sydney [for a second audition]. My baby peed through three outfits before we even got to Sydney *laughs*. At that point, I was so proud of myself for making it happen that I was like, whatever happens I feel very grateful to my body for letting me do it, for my partner, for my baby, for this whole thing. I was also meeting my character at a really good point in my life, the words on the page weirdly felt correct in my life — no acting required.
ON THE VIBES ON-STAGE AND BEHIND IT
Amy, how has it felt getting on stage with the cast of & Juliet so far?
AMY: It's really joyous. Every new audience seems to be really getting on board and going with us on the story, which is really exciting. Every night has this fantastic little journey — we're all very ecstatic at the end. It's a really lovely feeling.
While the show's on, what are some of the key things that are happening behind the scenes?
AMY: That's a good question — because there's quick changes, you take for granted where to move backstage because it can be incredibly busy. You'll have these moments in the show where there might be six ensemble members running off stage and they'll each have a dresser on them — the costume changes and then they're back on. Then you've got your crew, paging curtains, moving bits of set.
YASHITH: When the show starts, Hayden [Tee, who plays Lance,] and I don't come in for 30 minutes so we just sit and chat *laughs*. If it's the first show of the week, we might do a scene together to get our accents going. We can always hear the music happening upstairs — 'Hit Me Baby', 'Domino', 'Show Me Love' — and I just find it so hilarious that I'm down here in my costume while there's 1700 people watching upstairs.
It's like seeing the ballet, where there's another kind of dance happening behind the scenes that you just can't see. Like a duck — just gliding along the water and there's little feet underneath paddling really fast.
AMY: Exactly! It's like the quill that Shakespeare, [played by Robert Mills], and I exchange throughout the show. There are a couple of moments on stage that it happens, but there are moments off stage as well. Rob and I have quite specific points where we meet up backstage, touch base, have a little chat and swap the quill over. It's a lovely thing because it's necessary to the plot, but it also has meant that we've created these little moments where we check in with each other about how the show's going, what the audience is like, how we're both feeling — it's a nice little wellbeing check that's part of our routine now.
ON THEIR CHARACTERS
Could you both give me a snapshot of your characters?
YASHITH: I am obsessed with Francois — or Frankie. When I read his lines and about him, our similarities were so apparent. He's a male who is soft-spoken, nervous, shy, scared — who isn't a leading man. In this day and age, it's so nice to see a character who has those qualities that are celebrated, and are still shown to be his masculine qualities that make him who he is. He's open, honest, kind, warm. He's just a nice person and that's seen as a strength. We don't celebrate it in men or male-presenting people enough.
AMY: In a way, Anne is every woman but she feels incredibly specific to me too, which is lovely. She wants to be heard, but she's going about it in a really clever and heart-driven way. She's enthusiastic, she's dorky. She's unapologetic about the place that she wants to take up. But in saying that, there's a sense that she hasn't had that opportunity until this point where we meet her in the show — she's making up for lost time. I love playing that because I think there's an element to all of us where we feel like we haven't shown our full selves.
I love the fact that as a character, she represents heart and humour and reconciliation. She gets to make so many jokes and address the audience, and it's often a male role that's driving the story, making the decisions. She's not one sided: 'I need to fix my marriage' or 'I need Juliet to live the life that I never lived'. You know, there's so much more nuance to her — she's a little dynamo.
ON PERFORMING AS AN ENDURANCE SPORT
Hearing you two talk, and thinking about eight shows per week, it's evident there's a huge amount of stamina involved in your work.
AMY: I have a weird love of the need for stamina. I'm not a runner but I imagine that if you were someone that knew you had a marathon in you, there'd be pride in that. Like, at any point in time you'd be like, 'Yeah, I can run forty-two kilometres'. My thing is doing eight shows a week.
As this is your debut Yash, are you finding that too?
YASHITH: I knew I was gonna learn so much on the job, but I wasn't ready for what I was going to be learning. I can actually see [the rest of the cast] doing their thing and using their tools to get through an eight-show week. They're responding to their bodies, responding to the audience, responding to each other — which is all part of what makes it possible to keep it going and keep it consistent. Casey [Donovan, who plays Angélique], told us an analogy she uses: she lights a candle on Friday night in her head — that's her five-show-weekend candle. And then she speaks with, 'How's your candle going?' Or, 'Oh, we need a new candle, we're gonna need to find a tea light for the fun show that's on the weekend.' And just hearing Casey talk like that about the candle makes me ask myself: 'Oh, am I burning my candle too much? No. Ok, cool. Oh, I have burnt it a lot. I guess tonight we'll have to figure out how to burn as much as possible, but still be alive and respond and react.'
What are some of the things that you're learning?
YASHITH: I'm learning how to take care of myself. At drama school, you learn that your body is your instrument. You know, your big brain is your body, and your small brain's up here. *taps head* We do movement classes and I really learned respect for my body. When you're working, you only have yourself to rely on in every way and there's no way out of that. And when you're working alongside people who are able to give and be consistent and do all those things at such a great level, you don't wanna fall short in any way. And also just learning how there's so many different people out there — the way that they appreciate art or find joy or appreciate theatre, I just find it so interesting.
The passion this pair has for their craft, the show and their audiences is clear, and it's something that shines through on the stage.
If you're after a spectacular night out, the exuberant '& Juliet' is the stage show for you. It's taking over the Regent Theatre until Saturday, July 29. To nab your tickets, head to the website.
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