Transplanting the story from a gypsy to a Cuban setting, Carmen Jones follows a parachute maker who pursues first a soldier and then a boxer with a violent temper. When she rejects the latter, he turns murderous. The revival is directed by Southbank Centre’s artistic director Jude Kelly and produced by Raymond Gubbay. The production continues Gubbay’s tradition of summer musicals at the RFH which, prior to the Hall’s closure, included revivals of Follies and On Your Toes.
Hammerstein wrote the book and dialogue for Carmen Jones, while the music, essentially Bizet’s original score, was re-orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett. The musical ran for more than 500 performances in New York, where it premiered in 1943, and was made into a 1954 film starring Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge (who became the first African-American woman nominated for an Oscar thanks to her title performance).
Backed by a full symphony orchestra, with performances shared equally between the London Philharmonic and the Philharmonia, the 40-strong cast is led by South African Tsakane Valentine Maswanganyi as Carmen Jones and also features real-life brothers Andrew and Rodney Clarke as Carmen’s love rivals Joe and Husky Miller, as well as Sherry Boone, Philip Browne and The X Factor’s Brend Edwards (See News, 22 Jun 2007).
The “joyful” playing of the 60-strong orchestra wowed first-night critics, even if the musicians’ centre-stage positioning created problems for the production at large, by distracting from the performances and cramping the available stage space for the action. Nevertheless, the performers impressed vocally, by and large, even if some of their acting left critics wanting. Supporting players Sherry Boone and Brenda Edwards were singled out in most reviews for their “show-stopping” numbers.
- by Ryan Woods