So as summer comes to a close, so does my (apparent) Summer of Seeing Shakespearean Tragedies, which started (interestingly enough) with the tragicomic pastiche The Bardy Bunch: The War of the Families Partridge and Brady, a show I sincerely hope has a future in an off-Broadway (or even at a Broadway) venue. This inventive musical mash-up soon led to the more serious undertaking of the Bard’s work, first off with the brilliant (nearly) one man Broadway production of Macbeth starring Alan Cumming, followed (quite) closely with an off-off Broadway production of Hamlet at the Seeing Place Theater, which was equally brilliant. Of course, logic would have dictated that in this Shakespeare binge, I should have made an attempt to attend the Shakespeare in the Park productions of The Comedy of Errors and Love’s Labor Lost but I hadn’t; nevertheless, I have started to make amends for this lapse in absorbing all things Shakespeare, starting with an early preview of Romeo and Juliet, currently playing at the Richard Rodgers Theater for a limited run through January 12, 2014.
This tragedy of a pair of star-crossed lovers from rival families is undoubtedly a familiar tale, having been adapted countless times on film, television, and on stage (most notably West Side Story); I’m also quite sure in saying that this play has been read and studied (and re-read and re-studied) during the course of an academic tenure, so it’s pretty safe to say everyone knows the story, or is at least familiar with the story (and can quote some of the famous lines / monologues). This adaptation is set in modern times and in modern dress (Romeo enters the stage on a real motorcycle), and adds a racial element in its casting, as those in the House of Montague are white and those of the House of Capulet are black, with the exception of Nurse, who is white. This difference in skin color is not commented upon during the production (as the play adheres to the original Shakespearean text) though the difference does add credence to the tension that exists between the two families.
The set design is sparse, with an assemblage of chairs, various prop pieces, and a movable three-piece set that serves as the back wall; of course, there is the levitating set piece that represents Juliet’s balcony. The lighting and sound design (there is ambient music from a lone cello and percussion throughout) is striking and dynamic, and adds urgency to the tension that occurs throughout the play. The cast was astounding, especially leads Orlando Bloom (in his Broadway debut) and Condola Rashad as the titular Romeo and Juliet, who were both passionate and nuanced in their respective roles, and did have a good amount of chemistry together. Other standouts were Brent Carver as Friar Laurence and Jayne Houdyshell as Nurse, both of whom were sympathetic enablers / accomplices (depending on how you interpret their actions) to the young lovers.
The stage door experience was a good one, and as it was the first matinee performance, and the first two-performance day (the production had started previews earlier in the week), it was not known whether or not Orlando Bloom (who was clearly the box office draw for this production) would be emerging from the stage door to greet the fans who would undoubtedly be waiting. I was mildly surprised that the stage door area was not teeming with people – as there are photos from after the first preview performance when the entire block was closed off due to the phalanx of fans waiting at the stage door (most of whom I suspect had not seen the show and were just waiting outside to see Mr. Bloom). Anyway, the majority of the cast did emerge from the stage door (and I managed to secure a spot near the stage door entrance), and multitudes of cheers erupted when they did, the loudest came when Mr. Bloom came out (which was a lovely gesture, though I’m sure he felt obliged to do so, as he is the most recognizable name in the cast, generally speaking). He was lovely and gracious to those at the stage door, though as he was signing playbills, it was made known by the theater’s security guard that Mr. Bloom would just be signing playbills and not posing with anyone (though we were free to take pictures of him), which is understandable, as everyone (myself included) would want a photo with him. Thankfully everyone at the stage door was well-behaved and courteous to one another (I’ve had experiences when this was not the case, and people behind me would push ahead to get a better glance at the actors).
All in all, it was a good production, though I’m probably not the best judge of such things, as my viewership of Shakespeare on stage is limited. I do recommend seeing this production, as it’s rare (at least to my knowledge) that this play is revived on Broadway. No doubt, I’ll be increasing my Shakespeare viewership this fall, when the upcoming productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III by the Shakespeare’s Globe are set to play in repertory at the Belasco Theater, with an all-male cast (adhering to the tradition set forth in Shakespeare’s time).
For more information about this production can be found on the official site: http://www.romeoandjulietbroadway.com/