"Romeo and Juliet," Shakesepeare's most enduring tragic love story, has found its way back to Broadway after nearly three decades. Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad are this year's star-crossed lovers, (following in many footsteps, most notably those of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in 1940).
It's the Broadway debut for Bloom, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Lord of the Rings" actor who was Romeo for the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2011. Rashad, last seen in the Broadway revival of "A Trip to Bountiful," is the daughter of director-actress Phylicia Rashad and her ex-husband, Ahmad, the football-player-turned-sports-commentator.
This interracial R&J moves Shakespeare's tragedy to a contemporary setting, with Bloom making his big entrance on a motorcycle. Coincidentally, an off-Broadway production of "Romeo and Juliet" at Classic Stage Company begins performances later this month, with Elizabeth Olsen as the tragic heroine.
Looking beyond the Broadway show's star quality, the reviews found the production lacking in several respects.
Ben Brantley, in the New York Times, called the production "overstuffed" but wrote that Bloom gives a "first-rate Broadway debut," and he also praised an "incandescent" Rashad. Although he liked the first act, this version of "Romeo and Juliet," Brantley wrote, "never acquires the fiery, all-consuming urgency that 'Romeo and Juliet' should deliver."
The Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout described the staging as a "a slick, weightless assemblage of modern-dress trickery (Romeo wears a hoodie and jeans) whose conception is as stale as its been-there-seen-that décor and TV-movie music." Bloom gives an "energetic but emotionally unvaried performance."
Roma Torre of NY1 called it an "uneven production," but found that Bloom "has a commanding, generous presence." His scenes with Rashad "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 Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney wrote that the interracial casting "seems more like window-dressing than evidence of a dramatically cohesive textual analysis." Rasahd's performance "is all surface sweetness and vulnerability, lacking the innate pluck or intelligence that this contemporary reading demands."