Condola Rashad knows how to shine onstage.
The 26-year-old actress won a Theatre World Award for her 2009 New York debut as a rape victim in Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Ruined. And she was nominated for a Tony Award last year for her supporting role in Lydia R. Diamond's play Stick Fly—and then again when she appeared opposite the great Cicely Tyson in this year's revival of Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful.
Now comes Rashad's biggest challenge: her first above-the-title role as Juliet in the new Broadway production of Shakespeare's iconic love story, Romeo and Juliet.
It's a part Rashad not only wanted but also enthusiastically pursued. When she heard producers were thinking about reviving the show—it's the first time it's been on Broadway since Regina Taylor played Juliet in a multiculti production 27 years ago—Rashad remembers telling her agents, "We've got to get me in there." She nabbed an audition, but getting the job didn't come as easily. Rashad says she saw the director and producers at least four times before clinching the role when she read opposite film star Orlando Bloom, who had already been cast as Romeo. "Luckily," she says, "we have chemistry." Says the show's director, David Leveaux: "What struck me most was that the speed of Condola's heart seemed as quick as the speed of her thoughts."
Indeed, she and Bloom were so good together that Leveaux decided to forgo the color-blind casting and instead underscored the interracial love angle by making Juliet's family all Black and Romeo's White.
Still, Rashad says the production, which preserves Shakespeare's language while updating the setting to contemporary times, doesn't pivot on race. When people fall in love outside their assigned groups, the problems that arise have universal themes, she says, "be it racial, cultural, religious, sexual orientation."
Theatergoers shouldn't expect to see Juliet played as the naive girl either. "Look at the actual text. She's a real fiery teenager. So those are the colors I'm excited to explore," says Rashad, who, when she's not rehearsing, sings with her soul rock band, Condola and the Stoop Kids.
Rashad tries to keep her work honest and real—some advice she received from her Tony Award-winning mother, Phylicia Rashad. "There's no fake crying going on over here," says Rashad. And if her confidence ever flags, she has another source of inspiration: the "Dare to be empowered" tattoo that she had inked on her thigh four years ago (she now has six). Whenever she needs a boost, says Rashad, "I just tap my thigh and remember.
Romeo and Juliet is currently playing at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York City.