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Zendaya sees her Romeo, Tom Holland, make his Shakespeare debut in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

I’m not sure I’d equate Tom Holland and Zendaya with the same level of triple-A star firepower as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, but the last time I witnessed frenetic chaos outside the Duke of York Theater was when Taylor went to see Burton read. excerpts from Dylan Thomas Under the milk wood in February 1982.

It was crazy, with five spectators on both sides of the street waiting to see the superstar, very married Hollywood lovers.

Four decades later, I found myself in the same theater that has stood in the same location on St. Martin’s Lane since 1892.

This time it was the occasion of the official opening night of Jamie Lloyd’s austere, modern production of Shakespeare’s play. The most excellent and regrettable tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, to give its full title, starring Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as the tragic star-crossed lovers.

This time barricades were erected on both sides of the theater to prevent uninvited fans from bursting into the lobby.

Fans wait outside the Duke of York Theater (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)

There were hundreds of people waiting to see Holland and Zendaya, a far cry from the number I remember eager to see Burton and Taylor.

Still, there were enough people to make it a memorable event.

Earlier, about 30 minutes before the show started, Zendaya ran out of a car and through the ornate wrought iron gates that quickly slammed shut behind her, and ran into the house through the stage door.

He repeated those same movements, but in reverse, after Holland hugged and kissed Amewudah-Rivers, he bowed. Romeo Juliet company and wiped the sweat of the first night that glistened on his face.

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers and Tom Holland greet Romeo Juliet cast (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)

Zendaya did an Olympic sprint toward a waiting car while Holland indulged his fans with a little pavement speech about how glad he was that they had waited to greet him.

Good for Zendaya, I say, for not wanting to steal the spotlight from her boyfriend.

After all, it was his Romeo’s night.

Tom Holland and Zendaya leave the Duke of York Theater

after a ‘Romeo Ricky Vigil M/Justin E Palmer/GC Images

The boy had not stepped on the boards since he appeared in Billy Elliot musicAcross town at the Victoria Palace in 2008. He initially played a supporting role, after which he graduated to playing the eponymous working-class boy from a mining town who wanted to be a ballet dancer. He was on the program until 2010.

Holland was back at Victoria Palace six years later when Billy Elliot performed his 4,600th and last performance. He joined other young actors who had played Billy, and they all came together to deliver a dazzling encore that closed with Elton John pirouetting around the stage in a white tutu. It is not a joke. I think director Stephen Daldry put one in too.

On Thursday night, director Lloyd pointed video cameras at Holland backstage, dressed in a hoodie. We, the audience, were able to follow his progress thanks to a giant screen that broadcast images of him climbing stairs, walking through hallways, and going on stage.

The women on either side of me in row E couldn’t take their eyes off him.

Tom Holland in white t-shirt (Marc Brenner)

Similarly, Freema Agyeman, playing the nurse, purred as she slid next to him and felt his biceps. She was wearing a white t-shirt and jeans. A bit like Marlon Brando, except Tom Holland is not Marlon Brando.

Later, she orders him, “Get up, get up and be a man for Juliet’s sake!”

Agyeman is great.

Lloyd had his cast deliver most of their lines using microphones on stands, occasionally raising them forward like a Rolling Stone.

No, they didn’t sing.

Lloyd employs the same playbook he used to electrifying effect in the recent Broadway-bound film. Sunset Boulevard starring Nicole Scherzinger.

Cameramen follow the cast around the stage and the performance is projected on a screen. For example, the dance at which Romeo and Juliet met was filmed live in one of the theater’s bars and broadcast in the auditorium.

It was all great fun and there was a sense of energy, but no electrifying coup of theater that made the back of your neck tingle.

Holland was a perfectly acceptable Romeo. And, when he is a little older, I hope to see him take on the great roles of the classical repertoire.

Some Ibsen, perhaps?

Friends of Francesca Amewudah-Rivers with her parents Ros and Ayers Amewudah-Rivers (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)

However, I can see why Lloyd cast Amewudah as Juliet. He sure has fire in her belly and her line readings were backed by a youthful verve.

Good work too from Michael Balogun as the Friar and Joshua-Alexander Williams playing Mercutio.

Daniel Quinn-Toye played in Paris and is also the substitute for the Netherlands. I’d like to see what he does with Romeo.

A friend took her 13 year old daughter and she loved everything. Of course, she was there for Tom, but she encouraged me to want to go home and read the play.

And I was funny about the guy who was in the orchestra seats during the interval, shouting: “Every word that comes out of your mouth is brilliant, init?”

The thing is, this is the type of production that will appeal to a young audience.

Tom Hiddleston and Zane Ashton (Baz Bamigboye/Deadline)

A new audience. They don’t want to sit through the traditional, stuffy productions of the Bard. Theater needs to get young audiences excited now to keep them coming back.

They want the bright, shiny rawness that Lloyd offers.

Debutants included Tom Hiddleston, Zane Ashton, Lashana Lynch, Stormzy, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Meera Syal, Jeremy O’Harris, Tamzin Outhwaite, Jade Anouka, Robert Glenister and Arian Moayed.

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