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A CurtainUp Review
Romeo and Juliet
This production may also prompt thoughts of the musical West Side Story that was inspired by Shakespeare's tale of "woe." ("For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo") Brandishing shivs, chains and bats, the current rival street gangs —one black, the other white— confront each other with taunts, insults and challenges a la the Bard.
The turf is afire (both symbolically and literally) in Jesse Poleshuck's impressive setting. Scribbled graffiti and painted heads of presumably famous citizenry adorn large movable walls with sections that split, rise and descend to indicate various locations. Tracks of real fire and burning torches are dramatically integrated by director David Leveaux into the tragic story of the two kids who are in this production defined by a racial divide.
In the guise of Romeo and Juliet are film star Orlando Bloom and two-time Tony nominee Condola Rashad. They lust heedlessly but also naively for each other, unaware that their love is destined to be the victim of their families' bitter, uncontainable feuding.
What a winning and attractive pair Bloom and Rashad are as the lovers who are as blind to the hatred between their families as they are wide-eyed by the one and only emotion that really matters. Leveaux continues the tradition of moving the oft-transported and transplanted star-crossed lovers to a time and place remote from Shakespeare's Renaissance, Italy.
The revving of a motorcycle is heard and into the fray rides Romeo. In equal measure, to the delighted squeals from many of the young women in the audience, was the muted laughter from others as Romeo smiles and removes the black helmet from his head to reveal his curly hair. But it's the obligatory hoody and jeans shredded at the knees, and particularly those snazzy oxblood boots, that set him fashionably apart from his peers.
Britisher Bloom, who is best known for his film roles in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and in The Pirates of the Carribean, is not only making his Broadway debut but allowing the role of Romeo to validate his talent as a trained actor. He's good-looking and trim, with enviable abs. He's athletic to boot, as demonstrated by an impressively acrobatic flip off the edge of Juliet's balcony in the famous morning-after-the-night-before scene. Bloom proves himself much more than your typical, self-impressed teenager, making a convincing case for suffering and angst while also grappling with the part's histrionics. It is no wonder that he forgets his crush on the fair Rosaline, especially after gazing on the likes of Rashad.
Rashad, who appeared last season in the still current revival of The Trip to Bountiful, is lovely to look at, especially in the dazzling yellow party dress designed for her by Fabio Toblini. She has to be commended for caressing the verse, not as some abstract or reverential scripture reading, but with the honestly felt emotions and, indeed, giddiness, of a maturing maiden in the first bloom of love. I especially appreciated her refreshingly spunky behavior. The famed balcony scene is an unexpected joy as are all her scenes with Romeo in which they melt, indeed meld, into the ecstasy of their passion. Oh, those lingering hot kisses!
Rashad and Bloom have no trouble flaunting the grace and style of purposeful young Shakespearean actors. They bring ample evidence that they respond well to each other and to director Leveaux.
If our attention is generally riveted on the irrepressibly driven Romeo and Juliet, we can also turn our attention occasionally to the wiles and woes of the traditionally overwrought and glib Mercutio (Christian Camargo) and Romeo's empathetic peace-keeping cousin and sidekick Benvolio (Conrad Kemp). Somehow the overly precious insinuations by Brent Carver as the empathetic herbalist Friar Laurence didn't work for me. He often looked and sounded as if he had swallowed the wrong potion. But I was impressed by the blatant nastiness of Corey Hawkin's Tybalt. His ill-fated hand-to-hand combat with Romeo is chillingly real.
Juliet's out-spoken old Nurse is a very difficult role to play without recourse to audience pandering, but happily the always wonderful and always award-worthy Jayne Houdyshell gives every one of her lines a new meaning accompanied with a new expression of its own, call it an infectiously winning suggestion of prurience. She rides around town on a bike ("Can you not see I'm out of breath") with a mission and a purpose that we simply devour.
Broadway veteran Chuck Cooper is terrific as the autocratic and blustery Lord Capulet. Rosalyn Ruff is all wifely submissiveness at his side but also asserts self-assurance and elegance. Justin Guarini as Paris is, as all who play this role are, far too likeable a spurned suitor to have us believe that the romantically inclined Juliet would so easily toss this decent and handsome young man aside.
Leveaux, who has directed a number of Tony Award-winning revivals (Nine, , The Real Thing, Anna Christie) has done exceptionally well keeping Romeo and Juliet's sympathies in proper balance and the play moving on a speedy trajectory. The party scene at the Capulets is given extra excitement with guests dancing to Afro rhythms. Live musicians in the boxes give a nice boost to the stimulating original music by David van Tieghem.
Notably distinctive from the other productions of Shakespeare's plays planned for this season, both on and off Broadway, Romeo and Juliet is getting its first Broadway revival in thirty-six years. Nice to see those ill-fated kids from Verona are alive again.
Editor's Note: For a complete and detailed list of all the Shakespeare productions around town this season, see o ur feature Shakespeare, Shakespeare Everywhere. It will include links to reviews as they are posted.