Shakin’ Up Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet is arguably the greatest love story to be written in the English language. For more than 200 years, the romantic tragedy about two star-crossed lovers from feuding families has been retold and adapted on stage, television and film. On February 14, we invite you to celebrate Valentine’s Day by witnessing this classic love story with a present-day twist at The Lincoln Center.

As part of the 50-year-old, renowned group The Acting Company, Obie Award-winning Director Leah C. Gardiner has established herself as a force to be reckoned with within the professional theater world. “Directing Shakespeare is one of the biggest joys you can have as a director,” says Gardiner. “It’s incredibly nuanced. It offers huge stretch in so many different directions.” Perhaps that is why for her rendition of Romeo and Juliet, she has changed the setting from the 14th-century streets of Verona to a place that looks very much like our own.

What makes Gardiner’s style of directing unique is how she accounts for the physical. “It’s mostly verbs. How do verbs work in relationship to storytelling? In theater, you really look at the verbs. You do the same in dance.” In Gardiner’s Verona, there is breakdancing, a significant cultural element from the modern era. “It’s a form of dance that is coming back. I wanted to explore that in this production. I tend to always come to whatever play I’m doing through the poetry of movement.”

Her adaptation also includes issues of modern-day race and class struggles. “I’m a multicultural person, and I’ve always been fascinated by how cultures collide and work together. And to think about class and race in one place is not something that is done often. In this production, I was able to examine class warfare. Not in a way of conflict, but in a way of exploration.”

It was hard for Gardiner to think of what her favorite element from the show is, she loves all of them. However, she concluded that her favorite element was the first kiss that Romeo and Juliet shared. “It makes you think of your first kiss. It’s so tender.” In other adaptations of the play, Romeo is the one that initiates the kiss but Gardiner was adamant about having Juliet take initiative. “I was really interested in what it would look like for the self-identifying female character to go in. You don’t see that often, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that in Romeo and Juliet.” 

We all know the story of Romeo and Juliet, and according to Gardiner, love is what keeps the centuries-old play alive. “Love is eternal,” she explained, “We all want it. We all strive for it. We all want to hope. We all want to feel alive. We all want to dream. We all want to feel. We all want to cry. We all want to laugh and express emotion.” This play offers all those things and to Gardiner, that’s why Romeo and Juliet is still so timely. While laughing, she adds, “And in this production, we all want a little hip-hop.”

As an artist, Gardiner wants to make an impact. Like all artists, she wants to make a better world and create art that provides something that can be missing in someone’s life. “That’s what Shakespeare does. Good always comes and always prevails if we allow it.” While it may seem that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet ends in tragedy with the pair of star-crossed lovers taking their lives, Gardiner would argue that the ending offers reconciliation and hope as their death brings their families together. “Why can’t we all get along and love prevails?” is the lasting message Gardiner wants her audience to leave with after the show.

For those still in search of a meaningful and unique Valentine’s gift, tickets to this beloved, new-fashioned story are still available at or by calling the Lincoln Center Box Office at 970-221-6730. Tickets start at $20.