Romeo and Juliet receives 2.5/4 stars from Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian:
"There are so many good things about Des McAnuff's production of Romeo and Juliet, which opened the Stratford Shakespeare Festival season last night, that it's a shame it doesn't ultimately work.
"The reasons for that are simple: Romeo and Juliet.
"We'll get to them later, but first let's deal with all the praiseworthy elements on display.
"There's definitely a new and exciting look onstage at the Festival Theatre, with McAnuff serving notice that without destroying the basic shape and form of the original design, it's possible to break away from the dreary sameness that's been plaguing it in recent years.
"Robert Thomson's lighting is the first cue, using colour and focus differently than they have been in years and making it possible to combine atmosphere and illumination successfully.
"Heidi Ettinger's set is similarly bold, with a floor of multileveled terra cotta tiles, a moving bridge that does amazing things and the most thorough use on the centre trap I've seen in years.
"Michael Roth's music is also much more of a cinematic underscoring than the customary trumpet flourishes in between scenes we've gotten all too used to.
"I have some doubts about Paul Tazewell's costumes, which are frequently just too colourful for their own good and have Romeo running around most of the night in a peacock blue that really wouldn't look good on any male older than 6.
"The major joy of the evening is watching McAnuff move the crowds around, in bold swirling flourishes that push the story forward energetically through all of the first act and the end of the second.
"The ball scene is magic, the street fights look dangerous and the deathly final scene inside the crypt is handled with finesse.
"One could quibble with McAnuff's concept, which begins the show in modern dress with a gimmicky use of Uzis and motor scooters that makes you start to cringe.
"But once the company get dressed up in Renaissance gear for the ball, they stay that way, which is a clever conceit.
"However, we could do without them all reappearing in modern clothes for the final tableau, which kind of reduces the show's theme to 'Don't be hatin'!'
"Another major strength of the evening are the supporting performances from three of the cast in particular.
"Evan Buliung is such a dashing, charismatic Mercutio that it leaves the play feeling empty after he dies. McAnuff has perhaps included one too many of the man's numerous sexual jokes, but Buliung knows how to carry them off with panache.
"Lucy Peacock is also probably the best Nurse I've ever seen, knowing how to make this long-winded lady humourous, instead of boring. One giant speech which she seemingly takes at a single breath is a tribute to her technique as well as her timing.
"And Peter Donaldson is, similarly, the best Friar Laurence in my memory, acting with that stern but understanding quality he plays so well and giving us a man of power instead of a dottering, desiccated relic. McAnuff also lets him speak the show's Prologue and Epilogue – a wise and resonant choice.
"But when all is said and done, the show is called Romeo and Juliet and that's where this production, alas, falls down."
"Granted, these are two of the hardest roles to play in dramatic literature, since you have start with the naivete of teenagers, mature into adult tragedy and speak some of the most glorious verse Shakespeare ever wrote.
"Gareth Potter comes the closest of the two and his scenes of mooncalf madness in Act I are endearing. But when the going gets tough, so does he and that's the one note he plays the rest of the night.
"Nikki M. James is a sweet young woman and it's obvious that she understands all the changes Juliet should go through, but her thin voice, with its lack of variety, ultimately lets her (and us) down.
"The main stage of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is not the place to learn how to perform Shakespeare for the first time, especially not in the leading role in a flagship production. [James was plucked from Des McAnuff's The Wiz.]
"When the play is about the whole world of the Montagues and the Capulets, McAnuff delivers an exciting piece of theatre. But when it's time to zero in on the two young lovers, there's no bells and whistles left. They just can't carry the text.
"Let there be joy for a lot of the bold new physical steps that have been taken, but let's hope the new kids on the block remember that there has to be solid acting going on in front of it all."