"My only love springs from my only hate," bemoans Juliet. She's a Capulet and her beloved Romeo, a Montague, hail from rival families that despise each other. While the hatred is primal, this rendition of Romeo and Juliet adds another ripple: Juliet is black.
Though the Capulets are black and the Montagues white, color makes little difference in this rather hipster production. Given the longstanding feud, race, ironically, is strictly cosmetic. The strength of Shakespeare prose, a straightforward story of star-crossed lovers, says it all -- be it about young love or "the scourge of hate."
One of Shakespeare's most popular plays, and one of the most often performed, Romeo and Juliet combines comedic and tragic elements; both are well played here. Set in Verona, it begins with a West Side Story-style street fight between Montagues and Capulets until the Prince of Verona demands a truce, ordering any further outbreak punishable by death. Despite the enmity, Romeo (a charismatic Orlando Bloom in his Broadway debut), sneaks into a Capulet ball, thereby meeting his Juliet.
For Romeo, Juliet (Condola Rashad) "may be the sun," but their blazing love will consume them, neatly underscored by the fire imagery onstage. The love between the two is a ray of light, contrasted with the darker violence that surrounds them. Yet only their operatic death can end the bitter feud.
Now at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theater, Romeo and Juliet, the most accessible play within the Bard's canon, is a muscular production, in large measure, due to the male performances.
Christian Camargo is an excellent, swaggering Mercutio, while Brent Carver as Friar Lawrence and Corey Hawkins as Tybalt both deliver solid performances. Chuck Cooper as Lord Capulet and Jayne Houdyshell as Nurse, played as weary and smart versus the often earthy portrayal, are sound.
Director David Leveaux, who has directed numerous shows on Broadway, has fashioned an exciting, fast-paced Romeo and Juliet, in modern dress, utilizing music to heighten the dramatic tension. Jesse Poleshuck's set design is simple and effective; it compliments, rather than overwhelms the action, which is tight.
Rashad, who was wonderful in A Trip To Bountiful, gives Juliet sweetness rather than magnetism. She plays her vulnerability well, but doesn't spark the kind of chemistry with Bloom that defines the doomed lovers' overwhelming passion. Still, it's a cool production -- one crafted to draw younger theatergoers to Broadway.
Photo: Carol Rosegg