The ardor animating the latest Romeo and Juliet seems less the marriage of true minds than the commingling of hot bods. In David Leveaux’s revival at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers, Orlando Bloom, 34, and Condola Rashad, 26, halve their ages to play doomed adolescents caught in the throes of passion, destiny, and hormones. Call it puppy lust.
They make a ravishing pair. Bloom, easily one of Hollywood’s prettiest actors, attempts to rough up his handsomeness with an occasional James Dean sneer. It doesn’t work. Rashad, a tangle of sinuous limbs and opalescent eyes, loses herself in a teenage dream whenever he appears onstage. (So did many young women in the audience, who cheerfully rushed the stage door just as soon as the curtain fell on that desolate double suicide.)
Both leads impress. Bloom has a surer hand with verse than you might expect and a surprisingly unglamorous take on the role: a preening Romeo so in love with his own words and woes that he exasperates everyone around him until Juliet forces him toward maturity. Rashad’s Juliet has a sweetness that risks rotting audience teeth. In playing her so young and innocent, she neglects that role’s cleverness and strength, yet she is that rare actress who can project a sense of innate goodness that isn’t dull or cloying. The supporting cast—which includes Jayne Houdyshell as Nurse and Christian Camargo as Mercutio—is also strong, though varied in their approaches.
Leveaux has populated Romeo’s clan with white actors and Juliet’s with African-American ones. In interviews, he has disclaimed any social or political agenda, explaining that this structure simply allowed him to cast the actors he most wanted. And who would quibble with a stratagem that allows Chuck Cooper, Roslyn Ruff, and Corey Hawkins to play assorted Capulets? But an overarching theme wouldn’t go amiss in this scattershot show, which trades depth of feeling for frisk and distraction.
The action plays out on a largely bare set, dominated by a graffiti-marred fresco and extraneous swathes of sand. When gangs of menacing young men wander on, it looks like some beachy, Italianate section of Brownsville. But the plainness of the design yields to an embarrassment of props and bits of business—a dove, a bell, a flail, a swing, a banana, a bicycle, a climbing wall, a floating bier, a live cellist, balloons, flames, and pillow fights. You might wonder if any room remains for heartbreak and calamity—but, look! It’s that Pirates of the Caribbean guy on a motorbike!
This lively and visually involving production suffers from an almost complete absence of tragic force. Every iteration of Romeo and Juliet has to decide if theirs is a timeless, fated, inexorable love or mere adolescent folly. Here, the pair’s first kiss abounds with puppy lust, the balcony scene is even more adorable. Leveaux retrofits tragedy as YOLO rom-com, so that the latter-act catastrophes barely register. This kitten-cute courtship seems unlikely to drive anyone to the fatal release of poison and dagger. (It seems much more probable that with Romeo exiled they’d simply break up via text message.)
The audience, clapping feverishly, didn’t much mind. So many lives lost and futures blighted. Such sorrow, futility, and waste. But if you hurry, maybe you can get Romeo’s autograph!