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Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Hammerstein’

There’ve been many adaptations of Bizet’s Carmen; this one owes as much to Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones as it does to Bizet’s original. It’s relocated to Cuba at the fag end of Batista’s regime and the start of the revolution and all those latin rhythms and moves unleash a new power. I loved it.

Carmen works in a cigar factory on Cuba’s south coast, where Jose is a military guard. She’s briefly imprisoned in Santiago for fighting and he’s imprisoned for letting her go. Boxer El Nino, en route to his fight in Havana, takes a fancy to Carmen, who follows him with Jose in tow; he can hardly contain his jealousy. The revolution has begun in Havana, but the boxing match goes on, and the tragedy unfolds. It’s presided over by La Senora who appears in many guises, a very clever idea.

Hamilton’s Alex Lacamoire has created brilliant Latin arrangements and orchestrations, full of salsa, mambo, cha-cha-cha and rumba rhythms. This gives Cuban choreographer Roclan Gonzalez Chavez his starting point, from which he creates some thrilling dancing. Hector Martignon’s twelve-piece band whips up a storm. Tom Piper’s designs are very evocative of the period and the country, fading and falling down but still magical. The surtitles could have been positioned better and there was no need for Sadler’s Wells to replicate Cuban temperatures, but those are my only gripes!

Luna Manzanares Nardo as Carmen has the voice, moves and the sex appeal; she’s terrific. Saeed Mohamed Valdes is a touch restrained as Jose, but his vocals are superb. Joaquin Garcia Mejias has great presence as El Nino. La Senora in her many guises is brilliantly played by Albita Rodriguez. There’s great support from fourteen other actor-singers and ten dancers.

Above all, it’s the enthusiasm and energy of a stage full of Cuban talent that sweeps you away. Christopher Renshaw’s production is an outstanding reinvention of a classic.

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I’m late to the party with this one, which didn’t turn out to be as much of a party as I was hoping and expecting. Though I accept it is hugely important in the history of musical theatre, it’s very dated and I’m afraid I didn’t think Daniel Evans production did much to breathe new life into it.

It was the first musical as we know them today, the tale of the Hawks family, and in particular daughter Magnolia Hawks, staging shows aboard a boat which moved up and down the Mississippi river to find its audience. Magnolia becomes a leading lady by covering for someone else, falls in love with her leading man and heads for Chicago where they have a daughter, but he lets them down badly and disappears. She returns to her career and then to her home aboard the show boat where they are eventually reconciled many years later.

What was radical at the time was the race and segregation themes, plus alcoholism, gambling and prostitution. This was no song and dancing girls piece. I’ve seen it twice before – the RSC / Opera North at the Palladium around 25 years ago, and a spectacular in-the-round production in the Royal Albert Hall ten years ago – and my recollection is more positive than my impression last night. I can’t help comparing it with the European premiere of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro which I saw just five days ago and which is superior in just about every way – staging, choreography, band and sound in particular. I liked Lez Brotherston’s design, though.

I don’t think it was jaded after four months, in its final fortnight before its early bath, or because there were three understudies in leading roles, as they were all excellent. The reviews had been very positive and the audience reception on the night I went was enthusiastic, so maybe it’s just me……

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