Christopher James Hester, Desmond Newson, Fredericka Meek, Constance Jewell Lopez and Nataley Carter star in Carmen Jones.
by Sheli Ellsworth
The musical Carmen Jones, Oscar Hammerstein’s take on Bizet’s 1875 opera, opened on October 8 and will run through October 23 at The New Vic, 33 W. Victoria Street in Santa Barbara. A talented, all-African American cast detonates the operatic spirit into the launching of Ensemble Theatre Company’s 44th season.
Carmen Jones is set in an American, 1940s WWII parachute factory and chronicles a love triangle between: factory worker Carmen (Fredericka Meek) who plays the seductress; Corporal Joe (Chauncey Packer) a handsome young soldier who guards the plant; and his small-town girlfriend, the ever-true Cindy Lou (Zelda Carmen).
The ambitious Carmen is an adept social climber. She flaunts her sexuality with the shamelessness of a modern-day pop diva. After she finally convinces Joe that they belong together, he turns his back on Cindy Lou and his dying mother to be with Carmen. Joe, whose ambition is to become an airplane pilot, leaves the army and goes AWOL to be with Carmen in Chicago.
Once in Chicago, Carmen finds the champion boxer, Husky Miller (Troy D. Wallace), to be a higher rung on the social ladder and dumps Joe for the fighter. Joe’s life is destroyed against the backdrop of Miller’s success. The popular song “Stan’ Up and Fight” brings back visions of a great united country determined in its war effort to “fight like hell.”
The live musical accompaniment to this adaptation of Carmen Jones was flawless. Positioned above the stage, theatre goers were impressed not only with the talent of the musicians but their visibility during the performance. The baby grand piano appears to almost float in the air along with the music and the mellifluous arias.
Fortunately, we go to operas for the music. But Carmen Jones is more than an opera. It is part of America’s heritage and in many ways the performers made being an American feel noble again. However, every time one of the performers were positioned on the tiny stage tables, the audience teetered with them. And when the Sergeant called Corporal Joe, “boy,” I hoped that Oscar Hammerstein’s language hadn’t offended anyone. Then when the scenes of domestic violence became a theme, there were audible sighs in the audience. Should we keep these archetypal opera plots or find fresh ones? If you have ever been to the opera, you already know how it ends.
Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. There will be no performance on Saturday, October 22 at 8:00 p.m. or Sunday October 23 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets prices range from $40-$84. Visit www.etcsb.org or call 805.965.5400.