NEW YORK—The best reason to see the Broadway revival of “Romeo and Juliet,” William Shakespeare’s timeless tale of star-crossed lovers and their feuding families, would be Orlando Bloom’s performance. Playing the title male character, he imbues the role with power, passion, and emotions ranging from full-throated vengeance, to the giddiness of first love and the depths of despair.
Sadly, one good performance does not a good production make. The show is filled with characters who all too often are bereft of the passion Mr. Bloom displays. The result is a production that starts off rocky, gets better as it goes along, yet never really explodes off the stage or connects with the audience as it should.
In ancient Verona, the families of Montague and Capulet have had a long-simmering feud for years. However, when Romeo, a member of the Montague clan, sneaks into the home of Lord Capulet (Chuck Cooper), where the latter is throwing a sumptuous feast, he catches sight of Juliet (Condola Rashad), Lord Capulet’s only daughter, and falls instantly in love with her.
It’s a love Juliet feels just as strongly once Romeo manages to talk to her alone. Neither cares about what their families may think about their feelings for one another or their plan to marry.
However, Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (Corey Hawkins), recognizing Romeo at the party, is determined to end the interloper’s life at the point of blade. When a resulting battle between the two ends in Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment, all looks lost for the lovers.
To make matters worse, Juliet soon finds herself promised in marriage by her father to Paris (Justin Guarini), someone she does not love. It ultimately falls to one Friar Laurence (Brent Carver) to put a desperate plan in motion which, if successful, will reunite Romeo and Juliet forevermore.
One of Shakespeare’s most performed works, the play strikes such a strong chord because of the powerful central love story and the various familial obligations that ultimately threaten to pull the two apart.
Yet, for the play to succeed, it has to be presented both with strong direction and a strong cast, which is not always the case here.
Indeed, this production often feels more like a CliffsNotes version of the Shakespeare story, with Romeo and Juliet taking center stage properly enough, but where just about everyone else in the play gets short shrift in terms of depth and characterization. This is especially true in the opening scene, which feels disjoined and meandering.
Additionally, the family feud is given almost no backstory. The different people involved are not given any chance to connect with the audience on anything more than a one-dimensional level.
This shallowness applies to many characters. Tybalt does little more than appear menacing; Mercutio (Christian Camargo), a devil-may-care fellow and friend to Romeo, never varies that attitude even when his own situation is anything but laughable, and thus he ignores the gravitas the scene in question calls for.
Similarly, Lady Capulet (Roslyn Ruff) continually spits forth venom and nothing else, and Lord Capulet goes from a genial bear of a man for most of the play to an unforgiving father when Juliet refuses to marry Paris (another character who here has the emotional substance of a ghost). Cooper’s sudden change in temperament is not in keeping with the wisdom and patience his character has shown till that point.
There’s also the matter of Juliet. Though Rashad nicely brings forth the character’s eagerness and innocence, the continual sameness in her speech quickly becomes annoying. This weakness is most apparent whenever she shares the playing space with Bloom.
Bloom’s Romeo is always moving, doing little bits of acrobatics while proclaiming his love for Juliet or expressing sorrow over how things are unfolding, while Rashad often just stands there chirping happily or hopefully over how things will turn out.
While Rashad is able to change her vocal tones at points, especially when the play gets darker in theme, one wonders why this variation does not occur earlier, which would certainly have made her performance stronger.
This problem is one of many missteps made by director David Leveaux who is unable to bring the entire play into cohesion. It also didn’t help that there were major problems with the sound throughout the early portion of the play.
Another drawback was Thomas Schall’s fight direction, which often seemed overly staged and unrealistic.
It’s a testament to the power of the text that parts of “Romeo and Juliet” still shine through powerfully, particularly anytime Bloom is present. Also doing well is Carver as Friar Laurence.
Sadly, the entire production just doesn’t come together as it should.
Also in the cast are Jayne Houdyshell, Donte Bonner, Joe Carroll, Don Guillory, Sheria Irving, Maurice Jones, Geoffrey Owens, Spencer Plachy, Michael Rudko, Tracy Sallows, Thomas Schall, Carolyn Michelle Smith, Conrad Kemp, and Nance Williamson.
“Romeo and Juliet”
Richard Rodgers Theatre
226 West 46th Street
Tickets: 877-250-2929 or www.ticketmaster.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Closes: Jan. 12
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.