O Romeo, Romeo. How art thou, Romeo?
Not so great, chimed the critics, responding to the first Broadway “Romeo and Juliet” since 1977. The production, staged by David Leveaux, opened Thursday, Sept. 19 at the Richard Rodgers Theater for a run through Jan. 12. Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad (“Stick Fly”) star as the star-crossed (and, in this case) interracial lovers torn apart by their warring families.
Chase Quinn, writing for thegrio.com, enjoyed the production without being terribly excited about it. She calls the show “well-tempered” in achieving “a difficult balance between the flash of Broadway and the intimacy we want to see in any love story.” She likes the leads, even if, she noted, “they aren’t always in sync.”
Not liking the leads one bit is Newsday’s Linda Winer, who writes, “Alas, these lovers are not just star-crossed but so mismatched that they could be from different galaxies.” She’s also pained to note that Rashad “is not a natural Shakespearean. Her voice has little variety, and she basically has two expressions -- happy and not.” She adds, “most of the main characters appear to be in their own separate productions.”
Writing for TotalTheater.com, Elizabeth Ahlfors – who gave the show three stars – appreciated some of David Leveaux’s directorial choices in updating the play to modern times, but she felt the two leads (both significantly past their teens) lacked the youthful passion to make for a tragic romance. She calls Bloom “skilled” but complained that Rashad “has a problem projecting her lines with authority.”
Marilyn Stasio goes in the opposite direction, praising the leads’ chemistry but worrying that the production’s fire and brimstone (and “gimmicky staging”) sacrificed Shakespeare’s poetry. She writes, “this relentless physicality takes a toll on the language of the play, which the younger members of the company don’t seem to trust, and only Brent Carver, as Friar Laurence, seems to savor.”
In his three-star review (which reads more like a two-star review), Daily News scribe Joe Dziemianowicz also calls the show “gimmicky,” as well as “tepid” and compares the production to the onstage “helium helium balloon that starts full and gradually shrivels.” He notes that all the visual goings on compete with the actors – “and many of them lose.” Says Dziemianowicz, “Brent Carver is frantic is the undependable friar. Chuck Cooper goes overboard…as Juliet’s father.” As for Rashad, she “struggles with the language and often comes off muddled.” Bloom “is just fine…but he lacks the gravity to really grab you.” Concludes the review, “if Romeo and Juliet don’t blaze, why bother?”
Elizabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post agrees that the leads fizzle more than sizzle. Bloom “is handsome but lacks stage presence”; Rashad is “one-note.” The production is energized by Christian Camargo as Mercutio, but otherwise “coherence is in short supply.”
Writing for AM New York, Matt Windman gripes that Bloom “give an empty, uninteresting performance marked by shrill line readings,” while Rashad lacks expressiveness, although “at least she’s graceful.”
Associated Press critic Mark Kennedy loves Rashad but calls Bloom occasionally “shaky.” He notes that the supporting players often overshadow the leads. Regarding the set, Kennedy writes, “Jesse Poleshuck frames the action in a gritty, timeless place. A back wall breaks into several parts that are reconfigured nicely to give shape to the play's events, but the sand is just plain weird and the tubes that spew fire makes the whole thing look like `Romeo and Juliet’ performed inside a giant Weber gas grill.”