Orlando Bloom’s Biker Romeo Stuns Juliet: Jeremy Gerard

Swaggering Romeo toodles in on a custom-built motorcycle, wearing red leather boots; girlish Juliet soars on a schoolyard swing.

Such is the odd hormonal balance on display in David Leveaux’s staging of “Romeo and Juliet” marking the Broadway debut of Orlando Bloom.

There’s fire aplenty in Jesse Poleshuck’s visually striking design, but none ignited by the lovers, more ill-matched than star crossed.

The scene begins with a rocking crash from the brilliant composer David Van Tieghem, whose percussion and cello soundscape enlivens the 2 1/2-hour Shakespeare drama.

A white dove flies in from the wings and alights. Columns of flame rise dramatically from the stage, signaling the drama to come.

Romeo noisily arrives in the middle of a street rumble between the Montague and Capulet partisans, semi-heartsick over the breakup with his latest girlfriend. Bloom, 36, seems a bit old to be hanging out with the gang, let alone to be this callow. I was watching a good actor laboring against a director’s two-dimensional construct: Bloom couldn’t possibly have chosen to be so flat and uninflected.

The disconnect grows when Romeo locks eyes with Juliet at her folks’ house party. Older brother? Perhaps. Uncle? Maybe. Thunderstruck lover? Creepy.

Rope Swing

Yet Leveaux seems intent on underscoring the difference not only in their ages but in their levels of maturity. Condola Rashad, 26, an actress who has been nothing less than hypnotic in other roles (most recently in “The Trip to Bountiful”) is sentenced to wide-eyed innocence, most jarringly in the post-marriage scene that begins the second act. That’s when she’s swinging on that rope, like a seven year old.

There are some pleasures in the production, notably in three key secondary roles: Christian Camargo’s stinging Mercutio; Jayne Houdyshell’s conspiratorial, seen-it-all Nurse and Brent Carver’s appealingly foolish Friar Laurence.

“O for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention,” Shakespeare wrote. Not here.

At the Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St. Information: +1-800-745-3000; http://www.ticketmaster.com. Rating: **1/2

What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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