Orlando Bloom has answered the timeless question: What if Romeo wore black jeans?
OK, they may not be exactly black, but they're a dark wash and ripped at the knees. As Romeo, he pairs them with a pair of scuffed Red Wing-style boots, a tight long-sleeve white jersey, lots of necklaces and a gray hoodie. Oh, and a motorcycle. Yes, he roars onto the stage on a Triumph. (And Romeo, that impulsive youth, does indeed wear a helmet, good lad).
The "Romeo and Juliet" that opened Thursday at the Richard Rodgers Theatre has ripped the tragic love story from its 16th century Italian city setting. Where it is put isn't clear. Maybe an industrial part of Brooklyn?
There are huge pipes that spit fire, thick steel cables, a graffiti-crusted fresco, costumes that would look suitable at an American Eagle outlet — knit caps, gray zip-up jackets, white slip dresses — and piles of sand on either side of the stage that kick up cool dust. We're clearly a long way from "fair Verona." This is a hipster-ville.
Credit David Leveaux with trying to make Shakespeare cool, even if this uneven production sometimes misses the mark by falling in love with its visual effects. The staging is fast, too, with a noticeable rushed quality to the second half that leaves little time to digest the accumulating body count.
Bloom and his Juliet, the rising star Condola Rashad, sometime seem out of synch emotionally, but both give it their all, the stage veteran Rashad emerging better than her opposite, a relative theatrical novice, though Bloom at one point catches a falling feather with the skill and panache of a ninja.
Bloom, a matinee idol, too often appears like a squinty, aging boy band member, while Rashad embraces a coltish, youthful impulsiveness. They are terrific when they kiss, and they do so with a frequency perfectly in synch by their characters' savage love. But when they're apart, the weight of these roles seems to push them down.
Bloom is good at pitching woo, but shaky at other times. He does well in the balcony scene — she is on a suspended platform that resembles a window washer's gondola — but his rage at the death of Mercutio is flaccid. Bloom, as expected, offers up his naked chest, but his beating heart inside isn't always apparent.
Rashad beautifully captures the humor of Juliet as a giddy teenager but also flashes a scary smile when she's hiding her grim plans from her parents. While Bloom has his abs, Rashad has her own natural weapon: Two enormous eyes filled with emotion.
The two leads are often overshadowed by some very savvy veterans, especially a meaning-well-but-doomed Brent Carver as the Friar, a puffed up and quick to anger Chuck Cooper as Lord Capulet, a leather-clad rock star Christian Camargo playing Mercutio like a member of Oasis, and a delightful Jayne Houdyshell as the Nurse who almost steals the show. Each has little touches — a leer from Mercutio, a sip from a flask by the Nurse or an exasperated bellow from Lord Capulet — that bring life to this play; stuff like the motorcycle, not so much.
The racial dimension of the cast — Capulets are black, Montagues are white — really only serves as visual cues of fighting families. Many feared it would be exploitative, but it doesn't seem so.
Scenic designer Jesse Poleshuck frames the action in a gritty, timeless place. A back wall breaks into several parts that are reconfigured nicely to give shape to the play's events, but the sand is just plain weird and the tubes that spew fire makes the whole thing look like "Romeo and Juliet" performed inside a giant Weber gas grill.
There's a lot of other stuff — a live cellist, balloons, industrial house music, messenger bags, a real bird, a huge bell, actors running through the audience, a swing — that distract. Romeo may show up on a Triumph but the show, trying hard, unfortunately isn't one.
Orlando Bloom makes his Broadway debut in a “Romeo and Juliet” redo that packs Hollywood star power but lacks emotional fireworks.
The tricked-out but tepid revival of Shakespeare’s tragedy starts off with a bang, literally. The din jolts theatergoers to full attention and sets the scene for high-stakes drama.
Alas, no such luck.
As usual, director David Leveaux lavishes lots of attention on visuals, gimmicks and effects — the defining one here is a helium balloon that starts full and gradually shrivels.
Unfortunately, the show similarly deflates.
Shakespeare is all about the language, but in this show it’s a weak link.
The contemporary version depicts the Capulets as black and their sworn enemies, the Montagues, as white. But the racial tensions aren’t really explored in any significant way.
Instead Leveaux pours on imagery and effects: a motorcycle, a tolling bell, a floating balcony and funeral bed, fire and flash pots, a “Forrest Gump”-like feather, live drumming, dramatic underscoring by a cellist and an Alvin Ailey-esque dance break during the masked ball. And that balloon.
Competing with all that distraction are the actors — and many of them lose.
Brent Carver is frantic as the undependable friar. Chuck Cooper goes overboard with the hollering as Juliet’s father, while Roslyn Ruff, as Juliet’s mother, is memorable mainly for modeling sleeveless gowns and toned arms that would wow even Michelle Obama.
Justin Guarini, of “American Idol,” barely registers as Romeo’s rival Paris. It’s Christian Camargo who fares best by vividly talking the talk as Romeo’s pal Mercutio.
Pity the usually droll Jayne Houdyshell, who as Juliet’s sourpuss nurse is stuck pushing — not riding — a bright red bicycle (at least Romeo gets to take a spin on his chopper).
Of course, this tragedy is all about the star-crossed lovers.
As Juliet, Condola Rashad has wide, expressive eyes and a strong stage presence that served so well in her Tony-nominated supporting parts in “Stick Fly” and “The Trip to Bountiful.” She has a sweet moment in the balcony scene when she covers her mouth as if to say, “Is this happening to me?” Other than that scene, in which she successfully humanizes her character, she struggles with the language and often comes off muddled.
Bloom is the marquee attraction. Fans who have watched the star swashbuckle and get elvish on the big screen in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Lord of the Rings” can rest easy because he’s just fine.
No more, no less.
Bloom throws himself thoroughly into the role of the lovestruck Italian — ticket-holders get to see him shirtless, climbing walls and flexing his gymnastic abilities.
More importantly, he speaks Shakespeare’s poetry capably. But he lacks the gravity to really grab you. Together, he and Rashad are warm, not hot.
If Romeo and Juliet don’t blaze, why bother?
Now comes a new production of “Romeo and Juliet” in which the most memorable bit involves a Triumph motorcycle. Orlando Bloom’s riding it, but he doesn’t make as much of an impression.
Right there is a sign the show has a confidence problem. When you have a star of Bloom’s magnitude — late of the mega-grossing movies “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Lord of the Rings” — you shouldn’t need attention-getting stunts like a vintage bike. Or live doves. Or gratuitous fire action.
This suggests that director David Leveaux isn’t sure how to hold our attention. Not that Bloom can, either. In this, his Broadway and Shakespeare debuts, the British actor is handsome but lacks stage presence. He’s game but merely competent — and less than that when he expresses anguish. The scene in which Romeo agonizes at the prospect of being banished from his beloved is excruciatingly dull.
Equally underwhelming is Condola Rashad’s one-note performance as Juliet.
This is more surprising since Rashad (Phylicia’s daughter) has been a sensitive, vivid presence in plays as diverse as “Ruined,” “Stick Fly” and, most recently, “The Trip to Bountiful.”
Here she communicates Juliet’s girlish innocence and sensual awakening through wide-open eyes and a constant beatific grin. This goes a short way.
Bloom and Rashad embody Leveaux’s big idea: The warring Montague and Capulet families are, respectively, white and black.
The opening scene shows some of their more hotheaded members brawling in a gang fight in front of a crumbling, graffiti-covered mural in Jesse Poleshuck’s overly spare set. But mostly the biracial concept doesn’t really impact the show.
Indeed, for a production with such a strong conceit, coherence is in short supply.
The ever-reliable Jayne Houdyshell has a good-natured gruffness as Juliet’s nurse, her casting a nifty twist on the usual situation of black nannies looking after white kids. Even so, Leveaux gives her a bicycle with a baguette in the carrying basket, which makes her look like an extra in a BBC drama set during WWII.
Equally impressive and just as incongruous is Roslyn Ruff as Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother.
Sporting a sleeveless gown that showcases impressively sculpted guns, Ruff (remarkable in “The Piano Lesson”) emits a ferocious energy. Never mind that she feels as if she were beamed in from a different universe — a Greek tragedy, maybe, or “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.”
The most mesmerizing of the lot is Christian Camargo. As Romeo’s disenchanted, provocateur pal, Mercutio, he languidly delivers his razor-sharp lines. It’s as if the character was fatigued by life itself — yet he energizes the stage whenever he’s on.
And he doesn’t even need to ride a motorcycle.
A sense of divine justice seizes us whenever two of the world’s prettiest people find each other. This was true when Taylor met Burton, when Brad met Angelina, when Paris met Helen, or even when Narcissus met his reflection. We just can’t help sighing over the glory of separate souls wrapped in the luxury of shared beauty. Then there’s that other part of us that thinks, both fearfully and hopefully, “It can’t last.”
Such thoughts are inevitably stirred by David Leveaux’s lopsided production of “Romeo and Juliet,” which opened on Thursday night at the Richard Rodgers Theater, with the equally exquisite-looking Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad in the title roles. When these doomed lovers first set eyes on each other, it’s so obvious that they’re a matched set — and that they know it — that the whole world seems to stand still in deference.
Though the kiss they subsequently share is long and deep, it doesn’t feel like the product of teenage lust. The chemistry is less erotic than aesthetic. This doesn’t mean that the connection isn’t real, and it’s hard not to feel protective of porcelain figurines that are destined to fall and shatter. That one of them is white and the other black may underscore the division between their families, yet it registers as irrelevant when they’re together.
As a director, Mr. Leveaux has always believed in the power of loveliness. This is the man who gave us a “Fiddler on the Roof” (2004) that looked as if it had been styled for a Russian Vogue shoot. With “Romeo and Juliet,” his trust in appearances is not entirely misplaced. Mr. Bloom, in a first-rate Broadway debut, and the gifted Ms. Rashad exude a too-fine-for-this-world purity that makes their characters’ love feel sacred. It seems right that they should speak in some of Shakespeare’s most gossamer-spun poetry, which they do with beguiling effortlessness.
Yet, while the production features stunning columns of flame as part of its eclectic mise-en-scène, it never acquires the fiery, all-consuming urgency that “Romeo and Juliet” should deliver. Cut to a fast 2 hours and 20 minutes, this version may well leave you glowing and misty-eyed at the conclusion of its first half, which ends shortly after a genuinely luminous balcony scene. But the tragic events that follow pass in such an anticlimactic blur that when our hero and heroine finally off themselves, it’s hard to feel bereft.
Featuring an era-straddling set by Jesse Poleshuck, which suggests a contemporary Italian city long past its Renaissance glory days, the show has a certain elegant sparseness. Yet it also feels overstuffed — visually, aurally and conceptually. A giant, ominous bell is periodically raised and lowered, ready to toll for you know who. A well-behaved white dove appears for the prologue (spoken by Brent Carver, who plays Friar Laurence). And a frescoed wall, its Botticelli-esque figures overwritten with graffiti, slides in and out of view.
The writing on that wall brings to mind “Romeo + Juliet,” the hit 1996 movie by Baz Luhrmann, which starred a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes and was set in a trendy beach town. And I suspect that Mr. Leveaux is hoping to capture some of the youth appeal of that film, along with that of Franco Zeffirelli’s countercultural screen version of 1968. (David Van Tieghem’s background music cheekily quotes the opening notes of the earlier film’s theme song.)
Hence we have Romeo arriving, leader-of-the-pack style, on a motorcycle, his jeans fashionably torn at the knees. (Fabio Toblini did the costumes.) As a star entrance, it’s both cumbersome and embarrassing, though I guess it’s meant to establish the character’s bad-boy credentials. In contrast, Juliet is first glimpsed giggling her way through a pillow fight, making us think of her as still very much a little girl.
I’ve developed a lot of respect for Juliet’s perceptiveness in recent years, especially after seeing Lauren Ambrose’s smart and spirited interpretation for Shakespeare in the Park in 2007. In that version, directed by Michael Greif, it was clear that in this star-crossed relationship, it was the girl who was the mature one.
Ms. Rashad, who was enchanting in this year’s Broadway revival of “The Trip to Bountiful,” here commits to the all-out innocence of a sheltered character who is only 13. This Juliet is incandescent with virginity. You can see why Romeo, who’s been around and packs a knife, would fall hard for a girl who is so palpably untarnished.
During their first kiss, she seems to transmit her innocence to him, as if it were mononucleosis. And from that moment, we fear for them. Amid the worldliness and violence of Verona, they are so sweet and so doomed.
Once I got past the unfortunate motorcycle, I quite enjoyed the pre-intermission “Romeo and Juliet,” essentially the first two acts of the play. Most of the cast speaks the Elizabethan speech coherently and without strain. There are lively and credible performances from Christian Camargo, as an especially splenetic Mercutio; Conrad Kemp, as the more levelheaded Benvolio; and Chuck Cooper, as an unusually jocular Lord Capulet, Juliet’s father.
Jayne Houdyshell, a New York stage favorite, is superb as Juliet’s Nurse, lending wit, dignity and believable motivation to a figure often portrayed for low comic effect. You sense the real, reciprocal affection between this pragmatic Nurse and her terminally naïve charge. And, for once, I believed thoroughly in the parallel friendship of Romeo and the hellishly well-intentioned Friar Laurence, portrayed with a subliminal hint of neurosis by Mr. Carver. (Romeo’s kiss for the Friar when he agrees to marry the young couple is an inspired touch.)
Once the killings start in the second half — with the stabbings of Mercutio and the bellicose Tybalt (Corey Hawkins) — the momentum perversely slackens. Their deaths occur without fully registering. Mr. Van Tieghem’s uncharacteristically sentimental score keeps trying to nudge us into feelings that the play doesn’t inspire otherwise.
Good as she is in the early scenes, Ms. Rashad doesn’t yet have the vocal heft and variety to take Juliet into the echoing halls of tragedy. Juliet may learn to deceive her parents, especially after her forced betrothal to the eligible Paris (is that really Justin Guarini, from “American Idol”?). But we don’t feel that she grows up, to the point that in the scene after their wedding night, I wasn’t even sure that her marriage had been consummated.
On the other hand, Mr. Bloom, famous for being handsomely heroic in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchises, keeps surprising. For once, we have a Romeo who evolves substantively, from a posturing youth in love with love to a man who discovers the startling revelation of real love, with a last-act descent into bilious, bitter anger that verges on madness.
The final, blood-soaked scene in the Capulet family tomb, which has been considerably truncated here, feels almost like a hastily scribbled postscript. The show’s pinnacle of loss has been scaled a couple of scenes earlier, when Romeo, mistakenly believing that Juliet is dead, buys poison.
“The world is not thy friend,” he tells the seedy apothecary (Spencer Plachy), but he’s talking to himself. At that moment, Mr. Bloom’s eyes burn black with fathomless despair, and we lament the memory of how those eyes once radiated visions of endlessly beautiful love.
Shakespeare's timeless family feud gets a high-profile, interracial update in "Romeo and Juliet," a hotly anticipated production introducing mega-movie star Orlando Bloom and Broadway rising star Condola Rashad in their Shakespearean debuts.
Alas, these lovers are not just star-crossed but so mismatched that they could be from different galaxies in director David Leveaux's busy-with-brainstorms but broad and surprisingly unmoving production.
Bloom -- more famously the elf prince and a Caribbean pirate -- makes a dashing, appealing, if not exactly youthful Romeo. He has a flashy entrance in ripped jeans on a motorcycle that, ask not why, is never seen again and he catapults from a playful romantic to a doomed one with a winning grace.
It hurts to have to say this, but Rashad -- who has much-deserved Tony nominations for "Stick Fly" and "The Trip to Bountiful" -- is not a natural Shakespearean. Her voice has little variety, and she basically has two expressions -- happy and not.
She isn't helped by dowdy dresses in the early scenes, while Bloom gets to swan adorably around in a tight white T-shirt. Nor is she supported by the English director's decision to have the black Capulets speak in a weirdly unmelodic American Shakespeare while the white Montagues talk pretty in mellifluous Brit verse.
In fact, most of the main characters appear to be in their own separate productions. Chuck Cooper plays a jocular, showbizzy Lord Capulet. Christian Camargo has a used-up Keith Richards swagger as Romeo's pal Mercutio. Brent Carver's Father Laurence talks in bizarre rat-a-tat bursts. Only the marvelous Jayne Houdyshell feels both natural and poetic as Juliet's loyal nurse, who can even pop pills and sneak swigs from a flask without making us resent Leveaux for tricking her up.
Leveaux, who has directed exquisite productions of Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter, seems more intrigued by stage gimmicks and big gestures than subtle profundities. The production, designed by Jesse Poleshuck, makes handsome use of a graffiti-covered wall topped with peeling Renaissance portraits, but makes no sense out of a huge bell and a pile of chairs.
Romeo and Juliet each stop the action to do an athletic trick off her balcony. Friar Laurence has a live white dove. People dash up and down the aisles a lot. The African-inflected dance at the ball is beautiful, as are some rippling fire effects. The couple could use some of that heat.
A new romantic action hero has arrived on Broadway. He's both a guy's guy and a ladies' man, equally smooth in smiting a foe and somersaulting off a balcony to impress a lovely young woman. And since he's played by Orlando Bloom, he manages to look dashing and debonair through it all -- even in jeans and a hoodie.
So would you believe that he's never had a proper girlfriend before?
Probably not -- which is a problem, given that Bloom, in his Main Stem debut, is playing Shakespeare's Romeo, that wonderstruck naif whose doom is sealed with a first kiss.
In David Leveaux's rigorous but uneven new Romeo and Juliet (* * 1/2 out of four stars), which opened Thursday at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, that kiss is tellingly staged. Meeting Romeo at the Capulets' ball, Condola Rashad, the vibrant actress cast as Juliet, drops the balloon she has been holding, a whimsical touch in Jesse Poleshuck's elemental scenic design. Then her arm goes completely limp, a gesture that seems almost comic in its exaggeration.
It's not the only moment in this production that things seem funnier than they should. Like all great tragedies, Romeo incorporates humor, and at times Leveaux and his able cast milk its wit deftly. Rashad, in particular, mixes some wonderfully wry line readings into her wide-eyed performance, starting with Juliet's early declaration that marriage "is an honor that I dream not of."
It's less appropriate, however, that Mercutio, played by the usually excellent Christian Camargo, should suggest a standup comedian in his death scene. Camargo's snarling, leering take is of a piece with a presentation that strives to be animated, but too often comes across as simply overzealous.
Sexual references are delivered with exclamation marks, sometimes accompanied by suggestive swiveling or thrusting. At one point, the Montague lads -- Mercutio, Romeo and gentler cousin Benvolio, briskly played by Conrad Kemp -- gather in a heap and hump each other. Generally, when not confronting Capulets, they play-wrestle like schoolboys -- which the actors are quite obviously not.
Which brings us back to the leading man. Bloom is without question a graceful stage performer, and still looks pretty youthful at 36. But the gap between his suave Romeo and Rashad's breathless, girlish Juliet is glaring. They bring to mind less a couple of kids defying a harsh world than a really nice rock star and his groupie.
Incidentally, in this staging, the Montagues are white and the Capulets black. Leveaux doesn't overtly make race a factor in the family feud, but there are subtle nods -- as subtle as anything here, anyway -- to cultural differences. Roslyn Ruff's elegant, fierce Lady Capulet is a standout, whether appealing to her daughter's sense of duty or serving as vivacious hostess of a sultry dance party, where strains of cello swell over a hip-hop groove.
It's the most sensually stirring scene in this Romeo, which for all its style and bluster fails to produce a compelling connection between its stars or with the audience.
The kids are all right. That’s the takeaway from “Romeo and Juliet,” with movie heartthrob Orlando Bloom and ingenue stunner Condola Rashad as Shakespeare’s star-cross’d lovers. The interracial casting of the feuding Montague and Capulet clans sounds bold, but has surprisingly little dramatic impact. The tragedy also survives its gimmicky update to modern-ish times. Bottom line: This enduring love story stands or falls on the appeal of its lovers, and the young stars bring a sweet passion — if no ear whatsoever for romantic poetry — to their immortal roles.
Helmer David Leveaux (“Nine”) appears to have gone out of his way to disguise the fact that this is (horrors!) a 16th-century Elizabethan drama and the characters are speaking (eek!) blank verse.
The most distracting feature of Jesse Poleshuck’s set design is the huge metal bell with the aggressively loud tone that hangs just above the actors’ heads. The sizzling flames that periodically shoot across the stage and streak up vertical rods are also hard to ignore. A giant mural in the style of Duccio, depicting stern-faced Renaissance figures in stark profile, is actually quite wonderful — except for the steel pegs that turn it into a climbing wall for wanton youth with nothing better to do.
Some of the gimmicky staging, although arbitrary, is harmless: Romeo makes his noisy entrance on a beast of a motorcycle. Juliet delivers a pensive soliloquy from her precarious seat on a swing. Juliet’s nurse wheels a bicycle to her meeting with Romeo. The Capulets don bizarre masks and perform a primitive dance at their elegant ball. Juliet’s bier is lifted from the family crypt and winched up to the rafters.
Real damage is done, though, in the balcony scenes, in which the traditional Juliet balcony is replaced by a rough wooden platform that resembles a gangplank. To their great credit, Bloom and Rashad stay focused and manage to convince us that the young lovers only have eyes for each other. This Romeo and Juliet touch a lot and kiss as though they mean it. But more than passion, it’s the joyous sense of discovery that makes their love scenes so lovely — and that intimacy is precisely what’s compromised by all the running and leaping and jumping and other jittery movement.
Whenever action is actually called for, as it surely is in the street brawls between the warring Montagues and Capulets, fight director Thomas Schall takes care of business with some fast footwork and tricky swordplay. But when there’s no obvious need for it, this relentless physicality takes a toll on the language of the play, which the younger members of the company don’t seem to trust, and only Brent Carver, as Friar Laurence, seems to savor.
Christian Camargo cuts a fine figure as the irrepressible Mercutio, but the way he runs from the voluptuous images in his Queen Mab speech, you’d think they were killer bees. Once poetry is off the table, everyone seems to breathe easier. Chuck Cooper can fling his verbal thunderbolts as the powerful patriarch of the Capulet clan, and Roslyn Ruff can be as fierce as she likes as Lady Capulet. And since nobody expects Juliet’s nurse to spout blank verse, Jayne Houdyshell can be down-to-earth and kind of funny in this warm maternal role.
The ones who really suffer from this strange resistance to Shakespeare’s lyricism are Bloom and Rashad, who do good work when they’re not hanging from a scaffold or scaling a wall, and deserve a better chance.