Broadway’s “Romeo and Juliet,” now playing at Richard Rogers Theatre, is unique because, you see, the Montagues are white while the Capulets are black. And racial tension is carried throughout the production with — oh wait, no, it’s not. It’s just sort of assumed, since the families are fighting and have different skin coloring.
Without changing Shakespeare’s words or intents, this play could have articulated an opinion or raised questions on racial identity through staging, choreography or even music. But, aside from a sort-of, kind-of African-themed “ball” at which the ill-fated lovers initially meet, there’s no follow-through. That may be because the director himself, David Leveaux, admittedly didn’t know he’d be going in that direction until Condola Rashad was cast; diversity here, literally, was an afterthought.
Let’s talk about Rashad’s Juliet for a moment: She’s rivaling Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura Wingfield, two blocks over in “The Glass Menagerie,” for the best woman-child acting on Broadway. With big eyes and a simplistic smile, this fully grown adult — who’s actually quite talented, otherwise — play-acts as a naïve, virginal pubescent when she could have brought some maturity and depth to poor too-soon-wooed Juliet. Orlando Bloom as Romeo, meanwhile, is suitable because he’s British and hot and they found a way to make him appear onstage shirtless. So, good casting there! But as with Rashad’s Juliet, the play loses a little something when the hero is an adult who still acts the role as a teen; it’s harder to forgive Romeo’s childish, selfish impulses. Maybe he’s supposed to be a Millennial.
That’s another way this production of “Romeo and Juliet” supposedly differentiated itself from the many that have come before it: It’s done in a modern style. Well, that’s somewhat original if you discount Baz Luhrmann’s popular 1996 movie. But, let’s not. Because if you compare the two concepts, the film was clearly a fleshed-out aesthetic whereas here, well, there’s a motorcycle once, and the men are wearing jeans, and there’s some graffiti on the walls, and — well, no, that’s about it. Some loud rock music and a few pairs of Levi’s does not a modern Shakespeare play make.
So despite being billed as an edgy look at racial divide via the Bard’s classic romantic tragedy, what’s happening in Midtown is more like: “How many more hours until they start dying?” Oh well, next week John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill” is opening. Surely we’ll all have the chance to exercise our minds on racial and moral constructs then. If not, maybe someone hot will at least take off his shirt.
‘Romeo and Juliet’
Richard Rogers Theatre,
226 W. 46th St.