By: David Sheward
Fire is a repeated theme in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and director David Leveaux uses it in his contemporary Broadway staging of the timeless classic of star-crossed lovers, starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad. But that fire is employed sparingly and tamely. A few flames leap out of long poles at the opening and closing of each act, yet there’s no real danger. Sadly, the same can be said for the production. There are a few stray sparks-literally and metaphorically-but not the conflagration necessary to evoke the burning passion that consumes the doomed pair and overpowers the hatred of their respective houses.
Leveaux attempts to rev up that passion with superficial means. Romeo make his first entrance riding a motorcycle, and Leveaux casts the rival families with actors of different races: white for Romeo’s and African-American for Juliet’s. There are also balloons, a live dove, a giant bell, a cellist in one balcony and a percussionist in the other, and Shark-and-Jet knife fights. But these gimmicky touches can’t substitute for the missing ardor of the title lovers or the flatness of the staging. The chemistry between the leads and the racial tension is missing.
Bloom certainly looks the part of Romeo-curly black hair, eyes to die for, slim athletic build-but his performance is tepid. He doesn’t seem to be that excited about Juliet, and if the hero doesn’t care, why should we? Leveaux further undermines his Romeo’s opportunity for displaying vigor by cutting the climactic duel with Paris at Juliet’s tomb. A few minutes of stage time and some billable work time for the crew may have been saved, but this sequence is essential to demonstrate the protagonist’s transformation from a callow, rash youth to full-blooded adult ready to stop at nothing to be reunited with his (supposed) dead love.
Fortunately, Rashad redresses the balance with an intense, if rough interpretation of Juliet. She has trouble clearly delivering the Bard’s verse, but her intentions are there and strongly conveyed. The supporting cast is uneven. Brent Carver races through his lines as Friar Laurence. Christian Camargo is a mercurial Mercutio, setting off sizzling eruptions of fantasy during the Queen Mab speech and making us believe something is at stake during his dueling scenes (I would like to see what he would have done as Romeo). Jayne Houdyshell is a tart Nurse, while Chuck Cooper and Roslyn Ruff overemote as Juliet’s parents.
On the plus side, the original music by David Van Tieghem, who also serves as percussionist, is quite lovely. Too bad the production it accompanies is so muted.
Sept. 19-Jan. 12. Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time 2 hours and 20 minutes, including intermission. $85.75-$240. (800) 745-3000. romeoandjulietbroadway.com
Photo: Carol Rosegg