A new staging of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" features film star Orlando Bloom in his Broadway debut opposite two time tony nominee Condola Rashad. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.
Updating Shakespeare is tricky business. In the case of "Romeo and Juliet", "West Side Story" turned into a classic in its own right. And even as director David Leveaux uses similar conceits in his own inter-racial production, it's not nearly as successful.
It opens with a scene right out of "West Side Story" - a gang fight complete with switchblades and Romeo entering on a motorcycle. It's a gimmicky start that forces unwanted comparisons. Here, the Capulets are black and the Montagues are white. It'll be hard not to read a racial element into the families' feud but aside from skin color, there's no other indication race has anything to do with the bitter divide.
As for the two leads, film star Orlando Bloom turns out to be a fine stage actor. Making his Broadway and Shakespeare debut, he has a commanding, generous presence. His scenes with Condola Rashad's wide-eyed Juliet play out quite naturally, even if there's surprisingly little passion. Rashad seems to work too hard at being young and innocent, but the portrayal improves as the story intensifies.
The supporting cast almost steals the show, but how does one compete with Jayne Houdyshell at her motley best as Nurse or the booming Chuck Cooper as Juliet's imperious father? Add to that marvelous turns by Brent Carver as a bohemian Friar Laurence and Christian Camargo's cheeky Mercutio.
Original percussive music is effective, and the set, featuring a faded fresco and strips of fire, is beautiful, though none of it sparks enough dramatic heat.
Shakespeare plays require a suspension of disbelief. But that's a lot harder to do in a contemporary setting when people who look like us are behaving so implausibly. Despite some nice touches in this uneven production, the star-crossed lovers were doomed long before that first kiss.