It is truly tragic - but not in the way that Shakespeare intended, and surely not in the way that the producers had in mind. The latter haven't got their stars crossed, just their wires: did nobody point out that Bernstein got there first with West Side Story? That is one of a handful of musicals that can lay claim to being the best ever. This woeful evening can't even lay claim to being up there with the worst, whose excesses of bad taste (The Fields of Ambrosia), incompetence (Which Witch) or sheer kitsch (Bernadette) lend them a curious fascination and cult status.
This is just bland and boring. The music pays homage to two great but much-maligned institutions, Les Misérables and the Eurovision song contest. I would happily sit through both of those before enduring more of composer Gerard Presgurvic's interminable Gallic wails. This is a man whose ballads are not only sad but genuinely bad. The cast have clearly cottoned on to this. Their singing encompasses two styles, loud and louder, as if they were desperately trying to drown out the score. There is one really decent singer: Jane McDonald, who plays the nurse. Alas, she can sing but she sure can't act.
The plot remains largely as imagined by Shakespeare. Regrettably, though, all passion and poetry have been carefully excised. "Here goes, " chirps Juliet, as she swigs her sleeping potion. Well, bottoms up, Juliet, have a good kip. The lyrics of Don Black, a man capable of far better, are just as woeful. For example: "Now she's in love and everything has changed/ Her feelings and her hair all rearranged." Baz Luhrmann was cleverer than this. He knew you couldn't compete with Shakespeare's poetry and found a way to make it sing to a young audience.
The evening is not all disastrous. David Freeman's production, with its movable scaffolding towers, brings fluidity to the crowd scenes and a touch of Versace to Renaissance Italy. The fight scene between Mercutio and Tybalt also thrills. The rest feels like the theatrical equivalent of being force-fed a processed-cheese sandwich on Mother's Pride, followed by a pound of violet creams.
The youngsters in the cast will survive this long, dark tunnel of an adolescent musical. Romeo will end up as the floppy-fringed one in a boy band and Juliet will front Atomic Kitten.