The new “Romeo and Juliet” cinemacast marks the latest effort to turn stage shows into a theatrical experience, a trend that is only in its infancy on Broadway but is more popular with London productions.
“Initially when it was suggested to me, I was like, ‘I don’t know how I feel about that,'” Bloom said last week in New York. “Can they capture the magic? Can they capture the feeling of being in a live audience in that theater?”
“And then I thought, ‘(why not?)'” He said he wanted to leave a record of his performance for his 3-year-old son and future generations of Shakespeare students. “Quite honestly, the experience was very rewarding,” Bloom said. “It’s a very challenging role.”
The “Romeo and Juliet” cinemacast was shot in November before the play closed. It cost $1 million to produce. Nine cameras, some in HD, rolled at a Wednesday matinee and evening performances, zooming up and down the aisles. The actors were asked to wear microphones, but perform like at any other show.
“We knew we were being filmed,” said Condola Rashad who plays Juliet. “We didn’t know what was going to happen with the film. I thought it was going straight to DVD.”
The “Romeo and Juliet” project is backed by husband-and-wife producing partners Stewart F. Lane and Bonnie Comley, CEOs of Broadway HD. They hope such projects become more frequent and cite a recent cinemacast as turning a profit: the 2011 New York Philharmonic concert version of “Company” starring Neil Patrick Harris and Patti Lupone.
“No one has had Orlando Bloom,” Comley said. “We have his Broadway debut.”
“It’s a different theater-going experience,” Lane said. “The camera is right up there. You see the tears on Juliet’s face. You feel the emotion. It’s a new art form.”
Lane noted that European actors are more comfortable with the idea of being filmed on stage, which is why high-profile Broadway runs from Tom Hanks or Denzel Washington were not captured on film.
“The Brits and the National Theater has been doing this for five years now and it’s almost standard operating procedure on the West End,” Lane said. “They just go and shoot everything. Everybody understands. I think Broadway is a bit behind, because we’re still skeptical.”
Producer Ellen M. Krass, who won an Emmy for her PBS telecast of 2001’s “Sweeney Todd,” said she had filmed about 30 stage shows over the years, including “Romeo and Juliet.”
“It doesn’t happen mostly because of finances,” she said. The other reason is that Broadway is a fragmented business of independent producers who have different opinions about whether filming plays is a good idea and will hurt ticket sales.
Even though “Romeo and Juliet” underperformed on Broadway, Lane is betting that the cinemacast will turn a profit based on Orlando Bloom’s popularity abroad. He said the project is expected to eventually roll out to theaters in Canada, New Zealand, China, South Africa and Australia.
The big screen “Romeo” premiered for the first time in New York last week. A few scenes had been excised from the Broadway play to streamline the movie, but the edits were hardly noticeable. And the famous balcony scene still left audiences swooning thanks to its heartthrob star.
“I call him the dreamy Orlando Bloom,” Krass said. “I could be his grandmother.”