‘Carmen Jones’ Is Back — And She’s Still Smokin’ Hot at Classic Stage
By Helaine Feldman, Contributing Writer, June 13, 2018
‘Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?’ She’s still the fictional character in a popular series of mystery video games that have been around since 1985.
A question for 2018 might be: Where in the world is Carmen Jones? Answer: She’s Off-Broadway in Classic Stage Company’s new production of the musical bearing her name, having had its Broadway debut in 1943 and running for a respectable 509 performances. CSC’s production is the first major New York revival of the show in 75 years and marks the finale of CSC’s 50th anniversary season. The show plays at CSC’s theatre (136 East 13th Street), and runs through July 29, 2018.
Carmen Jones began life in 1846 in a novella by French writer Prosper Merimee. This was adapted into the classic opera, Carmen, which premiered in 1875 with music by Georges Bizet. The story then morphed into a Broadway musical in 1943 with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II (sandwiched in between his work on Oklahoma and Carousel). This production was produced by legendary showman Billy Rose and featured and all-black cast. Then came the 1954 film starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. Interestingly, although both stars were known as singers (but not opera singers), their singing was dubbed — Dandridge’s by Marilyn Horne before she became a well-known opera singer. Dandridge also became the first black woman to receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance (losing to Grace Kelly in The Country Girl.)
Bizet’s Carmen was set in Spain. Hammerstein switched the locale to a Southern military base in World War II America and Carmen’s tobacco factory became Carmen Jones’ parachute factory.
The CSC production is directed by John Doyle (Sweeney Todd, Company, The Color Purple) and features Anika Noni Rose in the title role in her first return to musical theatre since winning a Tony for her performance in the 2004 production of Caroline, or Change. Since the Tony, Rose has co-starred in the film, Dreamgirls; played Kizzy in the History Channel remake of Roots and appeared on Broadway in the non-musical plays, A Raisin in the Sun (with Denzel Washington) and with James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, among other projects. Clifton Duncan, most recently on Broadway in The Play That Goes Wrong, also stars.
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Cover: Anika Noni Rose; photo: Nathan Johnson.