With our new production of Romeo And Juliet sweeping onto Sydney and Melbourne stages, we keep spotting the two young lovers everywhere. Here’s a medley of some of the most famous (and infamous) places where Romeo And Juliet appears in popular culture. (Hit us up on social media to tell us any we missed.)
Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Story’ is probably the most well-known pop tune inspired by Romeo And Juliet, although Swift couldn’t resist rewriting the ending (“I talked to your dad, go pick out a white dress”). But this was not the first foray into the pop charts for our star-crossed lovers.
More than 30 years before Swift was born, Peggy Lee riffed on Romeo and Juliet in her sultry jazz classic, ‘Fever’. In 1989 (the actual year that Swift was born), Madonna sang about the pair on ‘Cherish’ and Lou Reed gave the story a sleazy twist on ‘Romeo Had Juliette’. Meanwhile, Arctic Monkeys dropped a reference into their 2006 hit ‘I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ (“There are ain’t no love, no Montagues or Capulets”).
In 1981 Dire Straits stormed the UK top 10 with their lovestruck lament ‘Romeo And Juliet’. The Killers tried to breathe new life into the same song in 2017 but their version was trumped just two years later by a plucky Australian. Lisa Mitchell’s rendition (for Triple J’s Like A Version) remains a rare and precious thing: a cover version that totally outshines the original.
Elsewhere, the movie soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet stole the hearts of an entire generation of teenagers in 1996. Today, it still sounds like a mix tape from heaven where pop bangers by The Cardigans and The Wannadies sit cheek to cheek with carnal electro by Garbage and Radiohead. (Although curiously Radiohead’s ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’, which plays during the movie’s closing credits, is a notable absentee from the soundtrack.)
That Luhrmann classic (starring a fresh-faced Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes) is just one of a gazillion adaptations for the silver screen. Because Hollywood. Flat. Out. Loves. Romeo And Juliet.
Back in 1936, Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer played the lovers in a black-and-white movie, perhaps most notable for its bizarre costume choices. Fast forward to this century, and Romeo And Juliet is still inspiring filmmakers. In 2011, Private Romeo reimagined the romance as a homosexual love story set in a military academy. In 2013, Warm Bodies plunged the couple into a zombie apocalypse, where a zombie named “R” falls for a human girl named Julie. And last year, teen romcom Rosaline retold the tale from the perspective of “Romeo’s ex-girlfriend”.
For serious film buffs, Franco Zeffirelli’s simmering Romeo And Juliet (1968) is probably the most cherished adaptation. The Oscar winning movie was filmed in period costume in Italy, with teenage lead actors Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. (Fun fact: Zeffirelli’s first choice to play Romeo was Paul McCartney).
And if Hollywood loves Romeo And Juliet, then Bollywood is absolutely obsessed with it. A cursory Google search turns up more than half a dozen Indian movie retellings of the story down the years.
Boasting memorable music by Leonard Bernstein and lovelorn lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story is the most well-known musical version of Romeo And Juliet. Here, the Capulets and Montagues are transformed into rival gangs, the Sharks and the Jets, in a tale of forbidden love on the streets of New York. Since it was first staged in 1957, the musical has returned to Broadway numerous times and spawned not one but two major movie versions (1961 and 2021).
But West Side Story only scratches the surface in the world of Romeo And Juliet stage musicals. Recently, the juke box musical &Juliet asked what might happen if the lovers survived their brush with death in the tomb. (The answer, it turns out, is to shake their funky stuff to tunes originally performed by Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Backstreet Boys. Who knew?).
Meanwhile, in the classical world, Romeo And Juliet has inspired symphonies (Berlioz, 1939 and a towering composition by Tchaikovsky, 1880) and operas (Bellini, 1830 and Gounod, 1867). And – after a tortuous editing process hampered by Soviet government interference – Prokofiev finally delivered a sumptuous ballet in 1936.
Boom! Kapow! Sputter… While there’s no shortage of cartoon and animated versions of Romeo And Juliet, few have really hit the mark. Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) had its moments, featuring two families of feuding garden gnomes voiced by a star-studded cast (including James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart and, also – get this – Ozzy Osbourne, Dolly Parton and Hulk Hogan!?). There’s also a very loose retelling of R&J in a Simpsons episode (Rome-Old and Juli-Eh), where Grampa and Selma make an unlikely pairing.
An honourable mention must go to the Canadian makers of Peg + Cat, a TV cartoon which teaches pre-schoolers maths with regular cameos from Juliet and Romeo. And another honourable mention goes to Julien Choy, who illustrated the 2021 Manga graphic novel Romeo And Juliet with particular panache.
We can’t end this piece without mentioning three curious places where theatre’s most famous couple have also popped up:
- David and Victoria Beckham named one of their sons Romeo.
- In present day Verona, tourists line up to touch the right breast of a bronze statue of Juliet, which is said to bring good luck in love.
- Two underwater robots that explored the wreck of the Titanic last year were named Romeo and Juliet.
What have we missed?
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Find out more
Read our brand-new quick guide to Romeo And Juliet, to learn the basics and read more wild and wonderful facts.
Video interviews with Romeo And Juliet’s cast and creatives will be dropping on social media in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. And to keep tabs on all our news and announcements, sign up to Bell Shakespeare enewsletters.