Theater review by Adam Feldman
No one can say they weren’t warned. The ravishing Anika Noni Rose plays the title role in Classic Stage Company’s revival of Carmen Jones, Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1943 reworking of Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen for black Americans during World War II. Singing “Dat’s Love”—the show’s version of the teasing “Habanera”—she puts her cards on the table like a fortune-teller: “I tol’ you truly if I love you / Dat’s de end of you!” And so it is for the primary object of her attention, a previously virtuous soldier named Joe (Clifton Duncan), who can’t stave off her wiles even if they lead to debasement and death. But Rose is indeed irresistible. Sheathed in a killer red dress, and using all the colors of her remarkable voice, Rose makes Carmen a complex agent of chaos—a femme fatale with a fatalist streak, exercising all the freedom she can in a world of men who want only to possess her.
Directed and reduced to 100 minutes by that strict diet doctor John Doyle, CSC’s Carmen Jones offers a physically spare but musically rich account of a historically significant curio. Hammerstein’s attempts at African-American vernacular are often clunky, and the staging fumbles a few key moments of violence. But the score is sung thrillingly by a cast that also includes David Aron Damane as a strutting boxer, Lindsay Roberts as Joe’s hometown sweetie and the dynamite Soara-Joye Ross, who puts her own tattoo on “Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum.” It’s hard not to be seduced.
Classic Stage Company (Off Broadway). Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Music by Georges Bizet. Directed by John Doyle. With Anika Noni Rose, Clifton Duncan. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.