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Betsy Wolfe: ‘& Juliet’ was my desired story.

Betsy Wolfe: ‘& Juliet’ was my desired story.

Broadway star Betsy Wolfe is one hardworking woman. Recently up at 4 a.m. to perform on “Good Morning America,” she then attended a formal gala lunch and spent a few hours snuggling with her young daughter before heading out for rehearsals for the musical “Juliet.” This season, Wolfe became a Tony nominee for the first time, and when asked about her busy schedule, she laughed and said, “The most grateful exhaustion is the best way I can possibly describe it. I am drinking way too much coffee this time in life.”

In “& Juliet,” a Tony-nominated musical, Wolfe stars in a play that reimagines “Romeo and Juliet” with a twist that avoids the tragedy of Shakespeare’s famous tale. But the twist doesn’t stop there. The musical incorporates some of the biggest pop hits of the past few decades by the likes of Britney Spears and Katy Perry. This mixing of genres might sound confusing, but Wolfe says, “There’s a healthy amount of doubt that everyone has when you first hear about this piece. We’ve seen jukebox musicals before. I’ve been in them,” she says. “But there’s something about this one — it’s truly a unicorn.”

Wolfe plays William Shakespeare’s wife Anne, who challenges her husband to change Juliet’s fate for future generations in a storyline that transforms her own life. Wolfe admires Anne’s fearless spirit and says, “Women often shrink themselves — to not intimidate, to not threaten their partner. And so to be able to come out within the first five minutes of the show and not do any of that, but just be fearless, saying, ‘I think we can make this better.’”

Wolfe has often played a girlfriend or a wife of a more successful artist in her Broadway career, but in this production, she is one of the two heroines. “Where most of my roles have seemingly ended in the first five pages, this one began.”

The musical’s crowning achievement is its ability to use massive pop hits by Max Martin, who is known for his involvement with Backstreet Boys’ “Larger Than Life,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” Celine Dion’s “That’s The Way It Is,” and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” In a significant move, Spears’ “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” is sung by Juliet’s nonbinary friend, May. This character is a landmark for Broadway in allowing a nonbinary main character to talk about their experiences with gender misidentification and dating while trans.

This is the first project Wolfe has undertaken since the pandemic and the birth of her child, 3-year-old Poppy, with husband Adam Krauthamer, a Broadway musician. The decision to take on the musical was a difficult one, but Wolfe says, “I knew that the projects that I would choose from here on out would be shaped by the fact that it had to be worth the time and the sacrifice that it takes from all parties involved. And this story, in particular, just really spoke to me.”

Some audiences have walked out of the show, unhappy with the direction of a feminist “Romeo and Juliet” or the pro-transgender-rights theme. But Wolfe feels the show’s message is to push the conversation forward. “Occasionally, for some people it’s too much. And that’s OK. But the point is this: I think that we’re pushing the conversation forward in a thoughtful way.”

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Stark Sands, who plays William Shakespeare, calls Wolfe “the best scene partner I could ever ask for.” He says she is playful, genuinely funny and surprising — constantly trying new ways to deliver. “She knew that when she looked in the audience and saw moms and their daughters watching this, she knew what it could mean. This is her opportunity to have an impact in a story about empowerment.”

On Sunday, Wolfe faces off in the category of best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical with Julia Lester from “Into the Woods,” Ruthie Ann Miles in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” Bonnie Milligan of “Kimberly Akimbo,” and NaTasha Yvette Williams from “Some Like It Hot.”

Even if Wolfe doesn’t win this Tony award, she has already received approval from her most cherished critic: her daughter Poppy. Wolfe recently took her daughter to see the show for the first time, and Poppy loves singing “Roar” and spending time with Juliet, played by Lorna Courtney. Wolfe says, “This is not a rewrite for her. This is the world and how beautiful that this story becomes her normal. And if that’s the starting place for maybe a generation, that’s actually the coolest gift that I could give her.”

© 2020 CANDOUR

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