Shakespeare400: Romeo and Juliet in Popular Culture

Shakespeare’s famous story of a pair of star-cross’d lovers has sparked countless retellings on stage, on screen, and in the concert hall. Ahead of our performance of excerpts from Prokofiev’s musical version on Friday 15 April as part of our Shakespeare400 celebrations, we have had a look at some of the music in films and musicals that have been inspired by Shakespeare’s tragic romance, Romeo and Juliet.

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Zeffirelli, Romeo and Juliet - Film

There was no way that Shakespeare’s plays were going to avoid adaptation for the silver screen and Franco Zeffirelli’s version of Romeo and Juliet (1968) is a classic example. Zeffirelli’s version was particularly popular among teenagers because it featured actors who were close to the intended age of the characters from the original play. Nino Rota's soundtrack received nearly as much praise as the film itself, receiving nominations for BAFTA and Golden Globe awards, but it is undoubtedly the Love Theme that is the most well-known musical moment in the film.

Romeo and Juliet Nino Rota Love Theme

Luhrmann, Romeo + Juliet - Film

Although retaining Shakespeare’s original dialogue, Luhrmann’s 1996 version setting of Shakespeare’s play transports the audience to a modern time period – focussing on two warring mafia empires in Verona Beach. Featuring a young Leonardo di Caprio and Clare Danes as the star cross’d lovers, Luhrmann’s popular soundtrack brings the story, and in turn, the audience crashing into the modern era.

Romeo and Juliet Luhrmann I'm Kissing You

Bernstein, West Side Story - Musical

Leonard Bernstein’s score for West Side Story is perhaps the most well-known modern musical retellings of Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s play is reworked and set in 1950s New York as Tony and Maria struggle to hide their love from their warring teenage gangs: the Polish-American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. The musical gave its first performance on Broadway in 1957, but is notable for the 1961 film of the same name.

West Side Story Prologue

Asbury, Gnomeo and Juliet - Animated Film

This 2011 animated film, Gnomeo and Juliet focuses on a pair of star crossed Garden statues, living in a modern Stratford upon Avon. With a popular soundtrack featuring Elton John, Kiki Dee and Nelly Furtado, Gnomeo and Juliet reminds us that despite the tragic ending of Shakespeare’s original story and other subsequent adaptations, Romeo and Juliet is, first and foremost, a love story.

Gnomeo and Juliet Hello Hello

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Listen to our Romeo and Juliet in Music spotify playlist.

Don’t miss our performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet on Friday 15 April, following our performance of de Falla’s The Three-cornered Hat and Rodrigo’s Fantasía para un gentilhombre, conducted by Jaime Martín.

Also on the day: At 6.00pm at our free pre-concert talk, Gordon McMullan and colleagues set out to dispel the infamous myths of Romeo and Juliet.