Review: Carmen La Cubana “sizzles with equal measures of passion and turmoil”

Carmen la cubana. Photo by Nilz Boehme

The swelteringly hot streets of London in British summertime create the perfect backdrop for the sultry heat of the Cuban inspired musical Carmen La Cubana. The tale – based on Oscar Hammerstein II’s Broadway musical, Carmen Jones – transports us to 1958 Havana which sizzles with equal measures of passion and turmoil with the ever impending Cuban revolution hanging in the balance.

Straight laced soldier, José, who is besotted with his beloved angelic sweetheart, Marilù, is led astray by the infamous temptress, Carmen. This love affair leads him down a path of destructive madness which can only be resolved by a tragic end for the couple. Luna Manzanares Nardo’s portrayal of Carmen is superb, creating a volatile protagonist whose emotions are constantly bubbling close to the surface and erupt uncontrollably.

Carmen la cubana. Photo by Nilz Boehme
Carmen La Cubana. Photo by Nilz Boehme

The two acts split the Cuban culture in two, commencing in the derelict cigar factory where Carmen’s monotonous working world originates. This transforms into the grandeur of Havana in the second act, reflecting Carmen’s desire to climb the social ladder, a ruthless pursuit only to be accomplished when she is on the arm of the famed El Niño, warranting her title ‘The Queen of Havana’.  This merciless determination seals her fate with her death and that of the man she once loved, José.

Alex Lacamoire spices up Bizet’s classical score with authentic Cuban style – infusing the original much loved sound of Carmen with hints of salsa, mambo, rumba and cha cha cha. This exciting new sounding score perfectly augments Roclan González Chávez’s high energy choreography. This vibrant pairing of music and dance creates an infectious positive energy which ripples through the audience. González Chávez’s choreography is at its best during the large Latin numbers – with thrilling acrobatics, exhilarating lifts, furious spins, sensual rhythms, and the occasional flutter of fans.

Carmen la cubana. Photo by Nilz Boehme
Carmen La Cubana. Photo by Nilz Boehme

When the waves of addictive energy from these high intensity dance numbers ebb what remains are flawless vocals paired with rather tongue in cheek dramatics – cheesy choreography, exaggerated acting, and crude symbolic visual effects. However, these cringe worthy moments add to the production’s charismatic charm with a nod to the operatic drama of the original Carmen.

When the company break out into their final encore, with dynamic Latin choreography and joyous Cuban music, it emphasises the real star of the show – the Cuban culture which this production has captured in all its vibrancy.    

Reviewed at Sadler’s Wells on 2 of August

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