Without two believable, likable, youthful looking and attractive actors in the roles of Romeo and Juliet you might as well not raise the curtain even if there is no curtain which is the case at the Richard Rodgers Theatre where this classic/contemporary tale of tragic Shakespearean love is enthralling audiences, having us remember that very first meeting, that very first touch, that very first kiss that ignited a fire within so strong that nothing would stop us from fulfilling that love no matter what. Even our families.
Fortunately these two iconic star-crossed lovers are portrayed with these essential traits by Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad that make this most original and vibrant production exceedingly special. It’s an extraordinary theatrical event that should not be missed.
In West Side Story we had the Jets vs. the Sharks. In this honest and emotional production helmed by David Leveaux we have the Montagues vs. The Capulets. They are also of different ethnicities – Romeo is white and Juliet is black heightening the stakes in their love story all the more. Leonard Bernstein’s music for West Side Story has become a classic and here it is matched by the haunting underscoring of David Van Tieghem played live with cello (Tahirah Whittington) and percussion (Mr. Van Tieghem) on either side of the proscenium.
The overall contemporary concept brings the story right into today with the dashing, virile and utterly romantic Romeo arriving on motorcycle, wearing red socks and showing a bit of purple underwear peeking out from his distressed jeans. Orlando Bloom immediately takes charge of the stage and never lets go. When he meets Juliet at the ball (which is almost surreal with larger than life balloons and feathered masks with a tribal atmosphere to the choreography) sparks fly between them. Fire burns within these two romantic souls.
A fire that is personified on the stark, simple and imaginative set by Jesse Poleshuck where a large period fresco is adorned with the names of other lovers etched within hearts. With a minimum of props, terrific lighting design by David Weiner, a successful combination of across-the-centuries costumes by Fabio Toblini and with cinematic flair the show speeds off to its tragic ending allowing the actors to give many memorable performances.
Especially that of Condola Rashad whose charm and magnetic smile and unexpected humorous line readings give a new depth to Juliet who is wise and crafty beyond her years. Mr. Bloom and she make the perfect lovers. Their balcony and tomb scenes are emotionally fulfilling.
Lord Capulet (Chuck Cooper) is a powerhouse. Lady Capulet (Roslyn Ruff) is elegant and strong. Tybalt (Corey Hawkins) goes after Romeo with a true vengeance. Friar Laurence (an excellent Brent Carver) and Juliet’s Nurse (Jayne Houdyshell) with her bag of goodies surprises, surpassing her usual fine self.
The cast is exemplary as is the entire remarkable production of ROMEO AND JULIET which I highly recommend.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
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