Shakespeare's timeless family feud gets a high-profile, interracial update in "Romeo and Juliet," a hotly anticipated production introducing mega-movie star Orlando Bloom and Broadway rising star Condola Rashad in their Shakespearean debuts.
Alas, these lovers are not just star-crossed but so mismatched that they could be from different galaxies in director David Leveaux's busy-with-brainstorms but broad and surprisingly unmoving production.
Bloom -- more famously the elf prince and a Caribbean pirate -- makes a dashing, appealing, if not exactly youthful Romeo. He has a flashy entrance in ripped jeans on a motorcycle that, ask not why, is never seen again and he catapults from a playful romantic to a doomed one with a winning grace.
It hurts to have to say this, but Rashad -- who has much-deserved Tony nominations for "Stick Fly" and "The Trip to Bountiful" -- is not a natural Shakespearean. Her voice has little variety, and she basically has two expressions -- happy and not.
She isn't helped by dowdy dresses in the early scenes, while Bloom gets to swan adorably around in a tight white T-shirt. Nor is she supported by the English director's decision to have the black Capulets speak in a weirdly unmelodic American Shakespeare while the white Montagues talk pretty in mellifluous Brit verse.
In fact, most of the main characters appear to be in their own separate productions. Chuck Cooper plays a jocular, showbizzy Lord Capulet. Christian Camargo has a used-up Keith Richards swagger as Romeo's pal Mercutio. Brent Carver's Father Laurence talks in bizarre rat-a-tat bursts. Only the marvelous Jayne Houdyshell feels both natural and poetic as Juliet's loyal nurse, who can even pop pills and sneak swigs from a flask without making us resent Leveaux for tricking her up.
Leveaux, who has directed exquisite productions of Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter, seems more intrigued by stage gimmicks and big gestures than subtle profundities. The production, designed by Jesse Poleshuck, makes handsome use of a graffiti-covered wall topped with peeling Renaissance portraits, but makes no sense out of a huge bell and a pile of chairs.
Romeo and Juliet each stop the action to do an athletic trick off her balcony. Friar Laurence has a live white dove. People dash up and down the aisles a lot. The African-inflected dance at the ball is beautiful, as are some rippling fire effects. The couple could use some of that heat.
WHAT"Romeo and Juliet"
WHERE Richard Rodgers Theatre, 225 W. 46th St.
INFO $87-$142; 877-250-2929; romeo andjulietbroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Star-crossed lovers are also mismatched.