WILL AND ME: Broadway's Romeo and Juliet (2013/14) Review
BROADWAY'S ROMEO AND JULIET (2013/14) REVIEW:
CAST: Orlando Bloom, Condola Rashad, Brent Carver, Jayne Houdyshell, Chuck Copper, Roslyn Ruff, Christian Camargo, Conrad Kemp, Corey Hawkins, Geoffrey Owens, Michael Rudko, Tracey Sallows
Directors—David Leveaux (stage production) and Don Roy King (live recording)
Scenic design—Jesse Poleshcuck
Costume design—Fabio Toblini
Lighting design—David Weiner
Musical score—David Van Tieham
Sound design—David Van Tieham
(Cast and crew information courtesy of Nova Cinema, Melbourne)
A recap: I have reviewed Romeo and Juliet as a 90s romantic blockbuster; I have reviewed Romeo and Juliet as a cartoon parody about garden gnomes; I have reviewed Romeo and Juliet as an unfairly criticized translation; and I have reviewed Romeo and Juliet filmed in its original Italian setting! (I of course refer to Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation of the play, which I intend on publishing right after this review has been posted.) Now, it is time for me to review William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in its intended format: As a stage play….
On the 27th of November 2013, David Leveaux’s revival of the timeless love story of two star-crossed lovers was recorded live by Don Roy King and released as a special event to cinemas across the globe, with it finally reaching Australia (where I currently live) on the 17th of May this year. Staged at the landmark Richard Rogers Theatre on the great white way (or “Broadway” to those who never saw The Producers), Leveaux’s interpretation of Romeo and Juliet takes place in modern day Africa, with the Capulet family being a wealthy business family born and bred in the land, and the Montague family being white racist immigrates from America or England.
First off, the choice of setting is a BRILLIANT idea: As a great deal of us all know, Africa has gained an unpleasant political reputation for its discrimination, corruption, poverty, war, trafficking, two-faced rulers and famine. When an awfully violent play like Romeo and Juliet (believe me, when you read the original text over and over again, you’ll find that the sword fights and brawls are actually quite dark and hauntingly tense) has its setting moved from renaissance Verona to 21st century Africa, what would have been considered realistic back then easily becomes just as realistic today! Being set in a country where the rules are frequently twisted and bended by its leaders, all the things that you found awkward and out of place in modern interpretations like Baz Laurman’s Romeo+Juliet or any previous modernized stage productions of the play set in thriving cities (such as Romeo being banished instead of going to gaol, or Friar Laurence marrying a 14 year old and somehow not being found out by his superiors) are justified here. In a country like America or London or anywhere that has stern laws, it wouldn’t be that easy for the characters to get away with what they do with just a slap on the wrist. But when they do they stuff in a country that has become a dystopia, anything can happen.
It’s an amazing choice of location; the scenic design is amazing and moody; the costumes are jolly good fun (I really loved the two piece suit Lord Capulet wears throughout the production—I want it for my own!); and the incidental music composed specially for the production is something that will stay with you for many days to come. (I absolutely adored the music that plays during the Capulet’s masked ball where an onstage band plays funky music (performed on African style instruments), accompanied by a groovy, exotic, lustful and perfectly choreographed dance sequence. Don’t you just love the beats of overseas?)
The design and music of the show is breath taking. But….the acting in the entire piece was just embarrassing and heartbreaking….
The players in this production sucked on so many levels! Almost every single member of the cast clearly had no clue what they were saying or what the meaning of their speeches were, and a great deal of the 136 minute run time (excluding the intermission that wasn’t given to those watching it at the cinema) was dedicated to attempting to be funny and outrageous….and failing miserably at it! The entire piece seems more like a tribute to every Chuck Lorre sitcom in existence than a tribute the genius of William Shakespeare. My comments on each of the players are:
~Orlando Bloom has a nice Shakespearean voice, but his Romeo was unlikable, arrogant and emotionless! He played the character as an overly confident, motorbike riding, womanizing jerk! No real heart and soul to the character whatsoever $6!
~Condola Rashad’s Juliet seemed promising at first, but from the masked ball scene onwards, she plays the character as an annoying bimbo with an IQ of three. She seemed more horny and retarded than innocent and in love.
~Christian Camargo’s Mercutio was wrinkly, drunk, nasally, annoying and unlikeable. He played the character like a drunken Rich Hall and Kenneth Williams, and everything he does with the character is unfunny and downright sad.
~Corey Hawkins’ Tybalt was unmemorable and unnecessarily feminine!
~Chuck Cooper’s Lord Capulet was obnoxious, over-the-top and pointlessly comedic in a serious play. Whenever I saw Chuck Copper appear on stage (or in this case, “on screen” seeing that I saw this at a cinema) I felt that he was trying to channel the acting style of Bill Cosby or Craig Ferguson than a professional actor. He was clearly in it for the laughs than giving himself an opportunity to prove that he can do both American plays and Shakespearean plays. But alas, a new Olivier was never to be.
~Brent Carver’s Friar Laurence (who also presents the prologue in this production) was bland, boring and foolish. (Again, like with Chuck Copper’s acting approach, he just wanted to have the audience p***ing themselves with laughter than be moved by a dramatic performance. A wanting that fails miserably the moment he starts interacting with Romeo!)
~Roslyn Ruff’s Lady Capulet was as stiff and bland as marionette! (Also, she has a stupid haircut! Was that meant to be a traditional hairstyle that you would usually see woman have in Africa, or does she have friends that give her bad fashion advice?)
~Geoffrey Owens, Michael Rudko and Tracy Sallows do not make the most with their short but important roles of Prince Escalus, Lord Montague and Lady Montague.
~Conrad Kemp’s Benvolio has no depth whatsoever! Every time he walked out on staged/screen, I felt like I was staring at a piece of paper display a three olds portrait of mummy and dad.
(The ONLY performer who excels in her role was Jayne Houdyshell in the ever lovable role of Juliet’s nurse. But even then, Leveaux’s direction reduces how much she could achieve.)
Along with the idiotic direction of an idiotic cast (with the exception of Houdyshell), Leveaux makes himself look even more like a fool by butchering the texts by either deleting certain sections for no reason whatsoever, or misinterpreting the text as a series of sitcom style punch lines. Notable cringe worthy moments include:
~The idiotic idea to begin the actual story at “Do you bit your thumb at me sir?” instead of “Gregory, o' my word, we'll not carry coals.”
~The balcony scene being portrayed as a rushed farce. And I really HATE how Condola Rashad delivers the lines “By and by I come” when the nurse calls out to her as “BYANDBYICOME” (Or at least, a delivery to that effect.)
~The fight between Mercutio and Tybalt (and their eventual deaths) plays more like a circus style of slapstick, thus everything about it is laughable. (The “You stupid f***ing fool” kind of laughter, not the laughter that feels you up with joy.)
~The death of the two lovers being rushed and ripped of its drama. (And the aftermath of the deaths having several lines omitted so that it could get to the poorly choreographed curtain calls a lot quicker.)
(The only thing that the director did right was excluding the often random and unnecessary death scene of Count Paris (played quite dully by American Idol runner-up, Justin Guarini) and the unseen death of Romeo’s mother, which makes no sense and doesn’t really add to the plot. But all in all, since this is theatre and NOT an actual feature film, I don’t see why it was considered logical to abridge some scenes for the sake of making it a shorter piece? Listen to me Leveaux: If you’re directing Shakespeare for the stage, either use the entire text or just don’t direct Shakespeare for the stage at all, you feckin’ idiot! Trust the yanks to know how to do Shakespeare!)
Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet—if you saw it and liked it, you clearly have no taste. If you saw it and hated its cast and direction (but loved the awesome set design and musical score), welcome to the club brother. But if you haven’t seen it all….you are the LUCKIEST person who ever lived.