If anyone is going to complain that a review of Romeo and Juliet is filled with spoilers the simple response is this. The chorus that begins the show gives away the ending. Directors shape Shakespeare's text to suit their vision of the play. Verse is cut, characters may not get the death that Shakespeare wrote. The question becomes how a director's vision for the production enhances or hinders the audience's enjoyment of the production. Unfortunately David Leveaux makes some choices that are bizarre and rather heavy handed in their symbolism. The actors, for the most part, overcome these disastrous decisions. Therefore if you choose to see Romeo and Juliet on Broadway pay attention to William Shakespeare's words in the steady hands of a fine ensemble of actors and ignore the trappings those words are wrapped within.
Jesse Poleshuck's scenic design creates a Verona that is beyond its glory days. A faded mural of Renaissance Saints is plastered in graffiti. These walls shift to create chambers and walls. Unfortunately layered upon this simple and effective set are flames clearly meant to symbolize the conflict between the warring families. It's very heavy handed as is the presence of an alarm bell that raises and lowers throughout the show providing no real purpose to the proceedings as it is rung exactly twice. It only serves as a hinderance to the actors who must sidestep the lengthy rope that gets in the way of their movement at points in the play. The less said about the completely unnecessary brief appearance of a motorcycle the better.
The costumes by Fabio Toblini are contemporary and rather grungy. It makes it very strange to hear Lord Capulet refer to Romeo as a well-thought of youth when he crashes the Capulet ball in faded and torn jeans and a hoodie. The colors are gray, black and earth tones perhaps welcome to anyone who sees productions of Romeo and Juliet that attach a color scheme to the Montagues and the Capulets so that the audience can tell quickly which characters belong to which families.
The saving grace of this production is the supporting acting ensemble. All speak Shakespeare's verse clearly and interpret his words so that a novice in the audience will easily be able to understand the story and the characters. Amongst the supporting players Conrad Kemp is a loyal and honest Benvolio and Chuck Cooper a loving father as Lord Capulet yet a wrathful force when his daughter disobeys his spontaneous wish that she marry. Justin Guarini is a pleasant enough Paris, but without the character's actual fate from the text, the role is simply that of a nice, pleasant guy. Christian Camargo makes his Mercutio a sharp wit although some of the jokes inherent in the famous Queen Mab's speech do not get the humorous response that is in Shakespeare's text.
Condola Rashad takes a while to find Juliet's soul. She really doesn't embody a young girl's hopes and dreams of a romantic future with her true love until she is married and awaiting the arrival of her wedding night. It is at the turning point of tragedy that Ms. Rashad makes an impact as her dissembling with her parents as she plots her desperate escape shows a Juliet with a steely resolve that creates a heartbreaking ending for our heroine. Yet, throughout her performance she lacks Juliet's urgency that leads her to agree to marry her family's enemy less than 24 hours after they meet. Her Romeo also lacks deep passion.
Orlando Bloom's Romeo is a lover not a fighter. Mr. Bloom speaks the verse quite well and makes some very interesting line readings during the balcony scene that speak to Romeo's possible disbelief that this girl, unlike his unrequited Rosaline, returns his love. Yet, the brash impulsive nature that leads Romeo to avenge a friend's death lacks any fire. Without that part of Romeo's nature, coupled with the director's decision to eliminate a sequence which reinforces that unpleasant part of his character, we are left unsatisfied. The ladies in the audience will still swoon and Mr. Bloom is charming and Ms Rashad beautiful but without the passion that the flames on stage promise the tragedy in the story is lost.
Romeo and Juliet is being performed at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway through January 12, 2014. For tickets please visit ticketmaster.com.