Carmen La Cubana is a new adaptation of Bizet’s famous opera Carmen. It has been adapted many times already – by Hammerstein, for example, whose 1942 Broadway show Carmen Jones transposed it to a contemporary world. In 1954, this was turned into a musical film starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. Now, Christopher Renshaw has attempted the same – to move the opera into a more immediate setting. The Cuban revolution of 1958 appears to be the perfect backdrop. In his production, “La Habanera” finds its roots in its native country. Cuba is a natural fit for this musical.
Carmen La Cubana is set in La Havana, at the eve of the Cuban revolution. Fidel Castro and his allies conduct an armed revolt against the authoritarian government of Cuban president Batista. In the Cuban countryside, Carmen – the daughter of an American military and a Cuban prostitute – longs for a better life. She uses her charms to escape her boredom by seducing Jose, one of Batista’s soldiers. Young and naive, he falls madly in love with her but his love proves to be too much for Carmen, who finds him suffocating. Independent and seductive, she needs more and wants to be truly desired. As the revolution prepares to set La Havana on fire, she meets the charismatic El Nino Martinez – an encounter that defines her fate.
The director’s passion for Cuba is palpable. Everything, from the set, to the music and choreography, invites the audience to enjoy the beauty of Cuba, home of romantic ideas and broken dreams. Carmen La Cubana is created to show the spirit of Cuba and its people, never complaining, taking moments as they come and finding the joy in life no matter what. The production gives also a nod to some Cuban traditions and the Santería religion, with its beliefs regarding fate and the spirit of dead slaves. The musical moves effortlessly from mystical sincerity to irresistible joy. Every type of Cuban music is represented: Contradanza, Salsa, Mambo, Cha-Cha, Merengue, and more. Alex Lacamoire explores every rhythm and Sadler’s Wells theatre is the perfect place to enjoy the complexity of the orchestration.
The cast’s energy drives the show. It’s an all Cuban cast, giving them the chance to show off their country and its unique spirit. Luna Manzanares is beautiful, dangerous and sensual as Carmen. Her performance is complemented by a wonderful band and very charismatic ensemble of dancers. The large cast performs effortlessly, following fiery choreography by Roclan González Chávez.
Carmen La Cubana is joyful – full of drama, danger and sensuality. It has it all and the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy every moment of this fantastic new take on Carmen. A standing ovation!
Carmen La Cubana is a seductive new musical and plays at Sadler’s Wells Theatre until August 18th, 2018.