Romeo and Juliet is back on Broadway (for the first time in 36 years) and co-starring Hollywood heavyweight Orlando Bloom. Directed by Tony Award nominee David Leveaux, this production has a modern setting in which the Montague family is white and the Capulet family is black. Shakespeare’s dramatization of the original poem sets the two young lovers in a context of prejudice, authoritarian parents, and a never-ending cycle of ‘revenge.’ Against this background, the strength of their love changes the world.
The last time Romeo and Juliet was produced on Broadway was the 1977 Circle in the Square production featuring Paul Ryan Rudd and Pamela Payton-Wright. Other notable New York productions include: the Public Theater’s 2012 gala staged-reading at the Delacorte Theater starring Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep; the Public Theater’s 2007 Shakespeare in the Park production starring Oscar Isaac and Lauren Ambrose; as well as the 1940 Broadway production starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh.
What do the critics think of this reimagined telling of family feuding and forlorn love? Here’s what they have to say:
“Mr. Bloom, in a first-rate Broadway debut, and the gifted Ms. Rashad exude a too-fine-for-this-world purity that makes their characters’ love feel sacred. It seems right that they should speak in some of Shakespeare’s most gossamer-spun poetry, which they do with beguiling effortlessness.
The final, blood-soaked scene in the Capulet family tomb, which has been considerably truncated here, feels almost like a hastily scribbled postscript. The show’s pinnacle of loss has been scaled a couple of scenes earlier, when Romeo, mistakenly believing that Juliet is dead, buys poison.
The world is not thy friend,” he tells the seedy apothecary (Spencer Plachy), but he’s talking to himself. At that moment, Mr. Bloom’s eyes burn black with fathomless despair, and we lament the memory of how those eyes once radiated visions of endlessly beautiful love.” The New York Times
“The attention-getting success of Luhrmann’s adaptation, down to its graffiti-like branding—he titled his movie William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet—clearly had a significant effect on the director David Leveaux’s current revival (at the Richard Rodgers). Leveaux is a theatre artist of great style, too, but his is a vision that suffers when he doesn’t have everything—cast, lighting, and so on—perfectly in balance. While Leveaux has apparently worked hard to bring his Verona, with its warring Capulets and Montagues, to life, his team betrays the strain of his desperate-to-be-hip imagination.” The New Yorker
“The kids are all right. That’s the takeaway from Romeo and Juliet, with movie heartthrob Orlando Bloom and ingenue stunner Condola Rashad as Shakespeare’s star-cross’d lovers. The interracial casting of the feuding Montague and Capulet clans sounds bold, but has surprisingly little dramatic impact. The tragedy also survives its gimmicky update to modern-ish times. Bottom line: This enduring love story stands or falls on the appeal of its lovers, and the young stars bring a sweet passion — if no ear whatsoever for romantic poetry — to their immortal roles.” Variety
“Shakespeare is all about the language, but in this show it’s a weak link. The contemporary version depicts the Capulets as black and their sworn enemies, the Montagues, as white. But the racial tensions aren’t really explored in any significant way. Instead Leveaux pours on imagery and effects: a motorcycle, a tolling bell, a floating balcony and funeral bed, fire and flash pots, a Forrest Gump-like feather, live drumming, dramatic underscoring by a cellist and an Alvin Ailey-esque dance break during the masked ball. And that balloon. Competing with all that distraction are the actors — and many of them lose.” New York Daily News
Romeo and Juliet
Richard Rogers Theatre
226 West 46th Street
Through January 12, 2014