The perennial tragic romance, Romeo and Juliet has been depicted in a myriad of artistic mediums in the 400+ years since William Shakespeare wrote the original play. 

In honor of the upcoming 2024 Spoleto Festival USA production Romeo and Juliet Suite by L.A. Dance Project, we’re looking back at numerous adaptations of this tale of star-crossed lovers, from the classic to the downright wacky.   

1597: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare 

Penned by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet was first published in 1597. Shakespeare’s principal source for the plot was “The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet” (1562), a narrative and Juliet” (1562), a narrative poem by the English poet Arthur Brooke, who had based his poem on a French translation of a tale by the Italian Matteo Bandello. 

1957: West Side Story 

West Side Story Playbill

One of the most memorable musicals of all time, West Side Story has become a contemporary classic. Arthur Laurents’ romantic and violent adaptation is told through Jerome Robbins’ original Tony Award-winning dances, with the music of Leonard Bernstein and the words of then-beginner Stephen Sondheim. Since its Broadway debut 60 years ago, it has remained a shining example of the best of this truly American art form. Chita Rivera, the production’s very first Anita, passed away in January 2024 at the age of 91. The Academy Award for Best Picture of 1961 went to the movie adaptation of West Side Story, earning a total of ten Oscars. 

1968: Romeo and Juliet Directed by Franco Zeffirelli 

Source: Paramount Movies

Filmed authentically in Italy (the setting of Shakespeare’s play) and with period costumes, the classic rendition hews closely to the Bard and introduces two of the most iconic young actors ever to portray the doomed lovers: then 15-year-old Olivia Hussey and 17-year-old Leonard Whiting.  

1991: Spoleto Festival USA Finale: Roméo et Juliette by Hector Berlioz 

Source: William Struhs

The 1991 Festival concluded with lively excerpts of Berlioz’ third symphony Roméo et Juliette (1839) performed by the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra conducted by Mark Stringer at Middleton Place.  Berlioz was inspired to create the piece after seeing a production of Romeo and Juliet at Odéon Theater in 1827. 

1996: Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet 

Source: 20th Century Studios

The wildly visual Luhrmann set his retelling n in modern-day “Verona Beach” (South Florida), casting red-hot young talent Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the titular duo.  Despite the modern dress and weapons (guns largely replace Shakespeare’s daggers and swords), the drama unfolds in Shakespearean English. 

2000: Romeo Must Die 

Source: Warner Bros. Entertainment

Starring Jet Li and Aaliya, Romeo Must Die adds a martial arts twist on the classic tale. With a star-studded cast including DMX, Anthony Anderson, Isaiah Washington, D.B. Woodside, plus music composed by Timbaland and Stanley Clarke, this rendition stands wholly apart.  

2006: Spoleto Festival USA’s World Premiere Production of Roméo et Juliette 

Source: William Struhs

The 2006 Spoleto season featured a dazzling world premiere production of Gounod’s romantic opera with soprano Nicole Cabell and tenor Frédéric Anto the title roles. With swirling waltzes, dramatic choruses, and exquisite love duets, Gounod’s opera is a sublime example of early Romanticism.  

2011: Gnomeo & Juliet 

Source: Walt Disney Studios

The only animated film on this list, Gnomeo & Juliet tells the story of two gnomes as feuding neighbors. Whimsical in storytelling, this rendition appeals to both children and adults. Watch as the blue family, featuring James McAvoy as Gnomeo, and the red family, featuring Emily Blunt as Juliet, battle it out while the humans aren’t looking. 

2013: Warm Bodies 

Source: Summit Entertainment

A unique retelling, Warm Bodies puts Romeo and Juliet through the zombie apocalypse. “R,” a zombie who cannot remember his own name, falls in love with a human girl, Julie. Starring Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies is uniquely told from the zombie’s perspective. The perseverance of love is ever present in this retelling, and without spoilers, as are the ways in which love humanizes us.  

2015: Shakespeare’s Globe Romeo and Juliet at Spoleto Festival USA 

Source: Julia Lynn Photography

Shakespeare’s Globe makes its Spoleto Festival USA debut with a brand-new production of Romeo and Juliet. Renowned for its authentic yet bold productions, this esteemed company hails from London’s rebuilt Globe Theatre- the venue Shakespeare called home. 

2019: Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Orchestral Suites by Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra 

Source: William Struhs

This stunning showcase of selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet orchestral suites was performed by the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra under the baton of Evan Rogister. This performance included the rousing “Death of Tybalt” and the sinister “Montagues and Capulets.”  

2024: Romeo and Juliet Suite by the L.A Dance Project at Spoleto Festival USA

Spoleto Festival USA will present a bold, multidisciplinary reenvisioning of Shakespeare’s tragedy by L.A. Dance Project with choreography by Benjamin Millepied and Prokofiev’s lush score performed live by Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra. Set in a modern metropolis, the titular duo are recast as diverse young adults: rotating between male/female, male/male, and female/female pairings. The fast-paced drama unfolds both on and beyond the Gaillard stage through live video, a state-of-the-art projection system. 

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