Carmen La Cubana is an ambitious production that attempts to merge fiery ferociousness of 1950s Cuba at the dawn of the revolution with Georges Bizet’s world-renowned opera. It’s all the concept of Tony Award winning Director Christopher Renshaw, whose production of The King and I is currently wowing the crowds at the London Palladium. On paper, the pedigree of Sadler’s Wells summer musical is clear, but sadly this Carmen his hard work, despite the commitment from the Havana-born cast.
In this reimaged Carmen, the protagonist is a cigar maker in a factory when a military unit led by Sergeant Moreno, and including the already engaged José, take up their posts there. When Carmen is arrested for causing disruption, José is ordered to take her to prison but he lets her go, and as a result is arrested.. In a subsequent fight, José kills Sergeant Moreno. So far, so Bizet.
The pair flee to Havana where Carmen becomes infatuated not with the Spanish bullfighter of the opera, but with a Cuban boxer, El Niño. The bloody and tragic conclusion returns to the original plot.
There is no individual element that fails in Renshaw’s production; however the overall result feels muted, lukewarm even. Primarily it is the dance content that feels lacking, with the same party pieces rolled out in each ensemble number. These Cuban dancers, of course, have the rhythm to pull off the Sambas and the Cha Chas, but the choreography is lazy, with much skirt swishing and hip wiggling that lacks impact.
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