Once the helmet is off, an awkward pause ensued as the actors on stage waited for entrance applause for Bloom; it was not forthcoming, or if so, only slightly.
Bloom proves he has the chops for this stage-acting thing though. He has adjusted his physical, vocal and emotional presence appropriately to accommodate and fill the 1,300-seat house of the Richard Rodgers Theatre. But with his entrance on a motorcycle, we realize that we are no longer dealing with an innocent 16-year old Romeo. Romeo’s innocence has been replaced by an assured young man with a swagger. Romeo has never been this sexy or probably this old.
In the role of Juliet is the doe-eyed and talented Condola Rashad. We’ve come to know Rashad’s talents well recently. She was nominated for a Tony Award each of the past two years. In 2012 she was nominated for Stick Fly and in 2013 for The Trip to Bountiful. She sparkled in both and does so here. Her innocence as Juliet comes so naturally.
Other stand-out performances include Jayne Houdyshell as Juliet’s nurse. Houdyshell brings her comedy prowess to bear but also proves her dramatic skills when needed. Christian Camargo is a boisterous Mercutio, highly entertaining. Tony-Award winner, Chuck Cooper is commanding as Lord Capulet, Juliet’s father. In the role of Friar Laurence, Tony-Award winner Brent Carver brings an earnestness to his role aiding and abetting the young couple.
Roslyn Ruff is a stiff presence as Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother. She has an aloofness and coldness to her performance.
This is the first revival of Romeo and Juliet on Broadway since 1987. Leveaux’s production takes place on a modest canvas, designed by scenic designer Jesse Poleshuck. It has a couple of dramatic elements in the form of steel pipes that rise and descend from the floor and ceiling. They act as a wick for a propane flame that spreads across the entire bar, two horizontal, and one vertical. Hung just to the left of center stage, a large bell that too moves up and down. A movable wall with a fresco of Catholic saints and the Virgin Mary slides on and off in three parts. A lit white cyclorama covers the back wall. This actually may be one of the first Broadway productions in a while that doesn’t include some sort of projections.
The lighting, designed by David Weiner, is dramatically rendered with a heavy use of side lighting. The costume design by Fabio Tablini includes contemporary clothing with some looking like they might have stepped out of “Babylon 5,” the science fiction television show. David Van Tieghem’s original music is haunting and helps build tension. It also provides the necessary festive spirit in the party scene at the Capulet’s.
The production has an air of timelessness to it, as though it could be any time period. Unfortunately, while we do get a sense of passion between Bloom and Rashad, what we don’t feel is a sense of regret at their death. Leveaux has directed the death scene as though we are watching a slight-of-hand magic trick, something being done close-up for television, not really revelatory (at least not from this critic’s vantage point, which was up close, but to the right of the theatre). Juliet’s stabbing herself felt too slight from my vantage point.
Overall, the play’s purgatorial setting didn’t help. The lack of a commitment felt distracting in and of itself. The only slight signs of time-period were the clothing and graphiti on the fresco, but even then, this could have been a span of 30-50 years. Bloom being cast in the show because he was a) a star; and b) able to carry the role, isn’t reason enough to cast him. His performance is extremely good, but the choice for the production to go this direction created an imbalance in the Romeo and Juliet relationship.
This is a highly respectable production of Romeo and Juliet. The cast and Leveaux should be proud. It just isn’t all that it could be.