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Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; music by Georges Bizet
Directed by John Doyle; choreographed by Bill T. Jones
Performances through August 19, 2018
Anika Noni Rose in Carmen Jones (photo: Joan Marcus)
When lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II took the music of Georges Bizet’s classic opera Carmen and wrote a new book and lyrics, setting it among black workers in a small WWII parachute factory town, it became a sensation onstage (in 1943) and onscreen (in 1954), when Otto Preminger’s film starred Dorothy Dandridge (and Marilyn Horne’s vocals!).
But Carmen Jones has fallen into disrepute due to the now wince-inducing Amos’n’Andy vernacular Hammerstein gave his characters (although in many other ways Hammerstein made them supremely sympathetic). But the strength of both the music and tragic romance are enough to motor John Doyle’s typically stripped-down staging—the first in New York since its 1943 Broadway bow—especially when it’s studded with muscular singers and powerhouse performers.
Carmen is a force of nature, a sensual dynamo with untrammeled power over men, particularly soldier Joe, who desperately wants a nice, dull life with hometown sweetheart Cindy Lou, but who cannot escape Carmen’s clutches. Luckily for Doyle, Anika Noni Rose fills Carmen’s form-fitting clothes (the adroit costumes are by Ann Hould-Ward) to perfection. An equally smoldering Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway a decade ago, Rose is spectacular as she seductively prowls the small stage, singing in a lusciously creamy voice that alternately caresses and attacks Joe and the other men in her life: Joe’s superior Sergeant Brown and boxer Husky Miller.
Although Rose’s star turn is Carmen Jones’s obvious asset, the other performers complement her superbly. Clifton Duncan’s Joe, Tramell Tillman’s Brown and David Aron Damane’s Husky make a trio of formidable rivals for Carmen’s attention. As Cindy Lou, Lindsay Roberts is all beguiling sweetness and innocence, and Soara-Joye Ross joyously leads the ensemble’s majestic singalong “Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum,” a song that—as its title shows—could easily have become a sore spot.
Doyle smartly allows his cast to roam the Classic Stage Company’s tiny space with authority, Bill T. Jones’ graceful and athletic choreography—often subtle in its movements, particularly in the final, fatal embrace between Carmen and Joe—makes the tragedy visceral as well as emotional, and a tight six-piece ensemble plays Bizet’s well-known score as passionately as the remarkable Rose and the rest of the cast sing it.
Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street, New York, NY
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