For many, Romeo and Juliet is the first (and only) Shakespearean play they will ever see. The story of the star-crossed lovers and their quarreling families has long appealed to romantics and educators. Undoubtedly, it is one of Shakespeare’s most often mounted tragedy, with versions on both stage and screen.
The challenge for directors is how to appeal to modern audiences while leaving the language intact. Many use gimmicks and celebrities to appeal to audiences and make the shows more accessible. The latest version at the Richard Rogers Theater follows the pattern. Orlando Bloom portrays Romeo and Condola Rashad is his Juliet. Orlando is most familiar to movie-goers as Legolas in The Lord of the Ring Trilogy and as Will Turner in the Pirate of the Caribbean movies. An attractive, appealing leading man, Bloom is more familiar as a movie star than as a theater actor. In fact, he was greeted by cheering female fans upon his entrance. As his young love, Rashad has earned Tony nominations for her first two roles in “Stick Fly” and “The Trip to Bountiful” last season.
The evening belongs to the title characters. Rashad continues to demonstrate her acting skill as she gushes and prattles enthusiastically and youthfully, as befitting a 14-year-old. She’s pretty and wide-eyed. She’s so enamored of Romeo that she smiles a tad too much, even when she should be more torn by her grief over her cousin Tybalt’s death. Bloom is a pleasant surprise and the longer he was onstage, the better he got. There’s some heat between the two, but not enough to sustain the play. Bloom is 36 and Rashad 26. Shakespeare’s characters are far younger, which is why they are so rash and impetuous, quick to fall in love and quick to kill themselves.