Romeo rides in on a motorcycle, swaggering in ripped dungarees and a leather jacket. Juliet, wearing white, swings on a swing child-like and timid. It is unclear why director David Leveaux would choose to emphasize the difference in the age of his two stars in Shakespeare’s tragedy, which is supposed to be about two adolescent lovers, unless this was a (surely subconscious) metaphor for the main reason why this production of “Romeo and Juliet” exists — the hope that movie star Orlando Bloom, making his Broadway debut, will draw in a theater full of squealing young fans every night.
Bloom and Condola Rashad are certainly appealing performers, and Leveaux’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the 36th production of Shakespeare’s tragedy on Broadway but the first in a quarter of century, actually has much else to recommend it. It is visually striking. The set is busy with visual interest, a real bird, a huge clanging church bell, and a ring of real fire that rises up in the air dramatically. There is music (live and recorded) at every turn, accompanying the Montagues and the Capulets as they both dance and fight with one another, and as underscoring in nearly every scene as well, an attempt perhaps to make Shakespeare’s words more dramatic. The result of all these cinematic touches can be spliced together to make for an alluring collage:
It is a different experience, though, sitting in the Richard Rodgers for two and a half hours. There is nothing terribly wrong with this “Romeo and Juliet,” but there is little that is especially thrilling, or deeply moving, or thematically coherent. The actors perform in a variety of styles, their costumes are in a mix of eras — vaguely modern — and the set and props give conflicting clues as to where this is supposed to be taking place: It doesn’t seem to be Verona; maybe it is supposed to be in an inner city neighborhood somewhere (the Renaissance-looking mural is scrawled with graffiti), but then what’s the sand doing there? The much-publicized conceit, that the Montagues are white and the Capulets are black, doesn’t really register.
The experienced stage actors — among them Chuck Cooper as Lord Capulet, Jayne Houdyshell as Nurse, Christian Camargo as a kind of punk rock Mercutio — play to the hilt, and enunciate well; they lure us with their cadences and their craft. Several of the others have not mastered the language of the Bard.
The tragic events that unfold after intermission are oddly truncated and feel at a remove.What may wind up being the most memorable aspect of this “Romeo and Juliet” are how photogenic the two stars and how ardently they kiss.
Romeo and Juliet
At the Richard Rodgers
By William Shakespeare
Directed by David Leveaux; sets by Jesse Poleshuck; costumes by Fabio Toblini; lighting by David Weiner; music and sound by David Van Tieghem; hair by David Brian Brown; movement direction by Nancy Bannon; voice coach, Patsy Rodenburg; technical supervisor, Hudson Theatrical Associates; fight director, Thomas Schall; Theater
Cast: Orlando Bloom (Romeo), Condola Rashad (Juliet), Brent Carver (Friar Laurence), Jayne Houdyshell (Nurse), Chuck Cooper (Lord Capulet), Christian Camargo (Mercutio), Roslyn Ruff (Lady Capulet), Conrad Kemp (Benvolio), Corey Hawkins (Tybalt), Justin Guarini (Paris), Donté Bonner (Sampson), Joe Carroll (Balthasar), Don Guillory and Nance Williamson (Citizens of Verona), Sheria Irving (Juliet’s Servant), Maurice Jones (Gregory), Geoffrey Owens (Prince Escalus), Spencer Plachy (Abraham/Apothecary), Michael Rudko (Lord Montague), Tracy Sallows (Lady Montague), Thomas Schall (Friar John) and Carolyn Michelle Smith (Prince’s Attendant).
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, including one intermission.
Tickets: $88.75 – $146.75
Romeo and Juliet is scheduled to close on January 12, 2014
Update: Romeo and Juliet closes December 8, 2013, more than a month earlier than originally scheduled.