ABOVE PHOTO: Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad star in “Romeo and Juliet,” performing on Broadway in New York.
(AP Photo/The Hartman Group, Robert Ascroft)
By Mark Kennedy
When Condola Rashad snagged the coveted role of Juliet opposite Orlando Bloom’s Romeo on Broadway, she was overjoyed. Now she could get finally get some answers.
“I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan,” confesses the actress. “There were actually times in rehearsal when I was like, ‘OK, not to geek out really quick, but I need to know: What is the difference between an Uruk-hai and an Orc?’ I had to know.”
Bloom, who played the Elf Legolas in the films based on J.R.R. Tolkien novels, patiently played along. He explained the difference and then blew her mind: “I told her Orcs used to be Elves,” he says, laughing.
Chemistry is important if you’re playing the leads in “Romeo and Juliet,” and conversations with both lead actors at the Richard Rodgers Theatre suggest they’ve got that elusive spark.
“We talk things out, we sense each other. We both know when a scene is off because we’re both there together. It’s about listening to each other,” says Rashad, a rising star on Broadway with back-to-back Tony Award nominations for “Stick Fly” and “The Trip to Bountiful.”
For his part, Bloom gushes: “She’s wonderful. She’s luminous. She has a presence onstage that commands whatever is happening. And those eyes! They’re huge, and she’s beautiful.” His Juliet, he adds, is “perfect casting.”
While Rashad, who is the daughter of actress Phylicia Rashad of “The Cosby Show” and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad, may be a stage veteran at 26, this marks her first full professional Shakespeare production. Ditto for Bloom, 36, who has never been on Broadway before.
“It’s a monster of a play,” says Bloom, sadly. “I tend to do this. I tend to set myself some pretty high bars to reach. It’s crazy exciting, daunting and all the rest. What is there to lose?”
This retelling of the classic love story is set in a timeless, unspecified place, a smashup of the past and present. It seems to be a hot, authoritarian world, where women wear shawls and earth-tones dominate the costumes.
There’s sand onstage and graffiti mars the frescos on the back wall. Rashad is often barefoot (“It feels great. I feel grounded,” she says), and Bloom makes his entrance on a souped-up Triumph Scrambler. (“It looks like something Steve McQueen would have ridden,” he says.)
Bloom, married to supermodel Miranda Kerr and father to 2-year-old Flynn, was cast first while Rashad endured a six-month audition process with up to five callbacks. She kept her process a secret from everyone but her mother, not wanting to deal with the high expectations.
“It’s about bravery, Shakespeare. It’s about courage,” she says. “You have to force yourself to be brave enough to understand that if you give your everything to the text, it will give it back to you. You have to surrender to the text.”
She finally landed the part when director David Leveaux, a five-time Tony Award nominee, put Bloom and Rashad in the same room and heard him laugh with warmth at one of her lines. Now it’s hers, which is a little terrifying.
“I have to focus on the work. Yes, it is ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ And it is epic and it is an iconic role,” she says. “But the truth of it is that an icon doesn’t think of themselves as an icon. They just are. I have to be the same way.”
Their casting added an intriguing element of racial contrast to the classic tale of two star-crossed lovers and Leveaux decided to take it to its logical conclusion: the Capulets will be played by black actors and the Montagues by white actors.