BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's ROMEO AND JULIET - A Resplendent Romance
The Houston Ballet has artfully delivered a sumptuous feast of pure romance in their current production of Romeo and Juliet, with music composed by Sergei Prokofiev. This production had its debut in Brno, Czechoslovakia on December 30, 1938, and Ben Stevenson’s staging of this production had its world premiere in Houston, Texas on September 2, 1987. For being an established and older piece, the current production feels fresh and new, causing the audience to double check their Playbills at each intermission in hopes that the story may have an ending that is different from the one they expect.
Joseph Walsh’s portrayal of Romeo is extraordinary. He utilizes every muscle in his body to make perfect movements, easily selling the audience each lush romantic emotion. This is only further augmented by his immaculate choices of facial expressions during the ballet. He presents a youthful, full of heart and passionate Romeo, truly enamored by his Juliet.
Sara Webb is astounding as Juliet. Her lithe and flitting movements convey the pure innocence of he character. She also does amazing and lengthy Pointe work throughout the show. Webb adeptly moves from light humor, especially in the playful scenes with the nurse, to tangible romance when she dances with Joseph Walsh’s Romeo. Sara Webb also expertly portrays Juliet’s anguish when making the decision to tell her parents that she will marry Paris and later when she finds the dead Romeo in her tomb.
Connor Walsh’s portrayal of Mercutio was this reviewer’s favorite part of the production. He is jovial and lively, making the audience chuckle at his silly and immature antics. Connor Walsh expertly handles being a lively youth and skillfully delivers genius comic relief, even after Tybalt has dealt him his deathblow. In his touching final moments, Connor Walsh shows just how completely committed to the role he is, keeping the audience from weeping by peppering in a few last chuckles before his final breath.
Other notable performances come from Kelly Myernick, Melissa Hough, and Aria Alekzander. Each of these women give remarkable performances as the three harlots. They truthfully convey comedic touches and move the audience with raw emotion during and after Mercutio and Tybalt’s fight. Furthermore, Simon Ball’s Tybalt is a well-rounded and inspired villain, filling the audience with disdain every time he is seen on stage. Lastly, Mireille Hassenboehler’s portrayal of Lady Capulet is impressive. She adroitly conveys each emotion the character has, especially when she reacts to Tybalt’s death, proving to the audience it is a tragic waste. I really laud her performance because in all the renditions of the story I have ever seen, I have never been convinced that Tybalt’s death was tragic until this production. Normally, I find myself cheering and rooting for it, but at this performance, I felt tears well up in my eyes when Lady Capulet showed how tormented she was by his death.
Ben Stevenson’s luxurious choreography and Li Anlin and Timothy O’Keefe’s magnificent staging perfectly pair to tell the familiar tale. I am certain that audiences unfamiliar with the story would be able to easily follow each plot device without a synopsis. Each movement is striking, purposeful, and believable. No movement is wasted on the stage, even in the busier marketplace scenes. Furthermore, the whole company of dancers faithfully follow the directions they have been given by their skilled creative team to effortlessly tell the tale, making it seem natural that people dance without words to communicate thoughts and emotions. Moreover, Greg Garrett’s sword fight choreography is impeccable. It is very realistic, allowing the audience to get lost in the clashing of the swords and anticipate with bated breath who will win each duel, even for those of us who already know the plot.
David Walker’s set is gorgeous and breathtaking. I could not help but utter a whispered “wow” as soon as the curtain rose on the first art. It only improves as the show goes on and it gets to show off its versatility under the expertly designed lights of Tony Tucci. Costuming is flawless as well. All three of these elements seamlessly combine to transport audiences back in time to Italy’s Renaissance.